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11 Brilliant Scientist Tattoos

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We’ve brought you literary tattoos, math tattoos and librarian tattoos, but now it’s time to take a look at the tattoos of scientists. From astronomers to biologists and from physicists to geographers, these tattooees do a great job at representing the wide array of scientific pursuits.

Special thanks to Carl Zimmer and his fantastic book Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed, which is where many of these great pieces came from.

1. Paleontology

Trevor has many geeky tattoos, including three directly related to his paleontologist position at the Page Museum, where scientists excavate, clean, study, and mount fossil samples found at the La Brea Tar Pits in LA. He has a frontal view of a Sabertooth Cat skull on display at his museum, the logo of the museum he works for (at top) and the logo of the of the Page Museum's parent museum The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Now that’s some paleontology pride!

2. Schrödinger’s Cat

Fergus is a medical physicist who works with Ionising radiation. He’s also particularly fascinated by the Philosophy of Physics, which is why he got this Schrödinger’s’ cat tattoo, which he believes “shows the concept of uncertainty extremely well.” As if a mere Schrödinger’s cat tattoo wasn’t cool enough on its own, notice that he also included a radiation warning symbol and that the box is, fittingly, one of the impossible variety, as designed by M.C. Escher.

3. Strebe Projection

Geographer Marina Islas has a map of the world on her back, which is very appropriate, given her profession. “It is a Strebe equal-area projection, polyconic," she says. "It took me a year to figure out which projection I wanted to live with for the rest of my life and I stumbled upon the Strebe projection. It’s very organic in shape and I appreciate that it is Afro-centric and not Euro- or Amer-centric.”

4. Equations

Adam Simpson works at the National Center for Computational Sciences and while Newton's second law of Motion and Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence might not directly relate to computers, they’re certainly some of the most famous scientific equations ever devised.

5. Neurons

Brazilian biologist Pato Gabriel got a network of neurons tattooed over his shoulder in order to represent the circuitry of the human brain.

6. Dopamine

Heather got the chemical compound of dopamine tattooed on her side after she started working in a behavioral neuroscience lab. If only getting a tattoo of dopamine actually helped feed it into your system, a whole lot of people would stop hitting the pharmacy and start hitting the tattoo shop.

7. Italian Wall Lizard

Russell Burke is a biologist at Hofstra University, where he studies, among other things, Italian Wall Lizards like the one he has tattooed here.

8. A Jellyfish

Dave Wolfenden is a lecturer at Reaseheath College in England, where he teaches about animal science. As a big fan of the jellyfish, it was only fitting he get a tattoo of the fascinating creature.

9. A Passionflower

While Sherrie Emerine studies invasive plants, she was inspired to get the vines of the passionflower tattooed on her leg because “the plant is really lovely and the flowers are botanically unique, and because it fulfills many of the requirements for ornamental plants, but has the benefits of native species.”

10. Halley's Comet

Kate Devitt is a memory researcher at Queensland University of Technology and her husband, Morgan Jaffit, is a game designer. The two have matching tattoos of Halley’s Comet based on the Bayeux Tapestry depiction of the comet just before the 1066 Norman Conquest.

11. A Spaceship

Bobby Magee, aka Flickr user Spacemanbobby, got this great tattoo of a spaceship traveling through the galaxy as his second tattoo. Fittingly, Bobby is an astronomer and ex-rocket scientist, although he is currently working on computer networks. In case you’re wondering, his first tattoo shows a twist in the fabric of time.

Now it’s your turn to share any great geeky ink you have with the world, whether you’re a scientist with tattoos or anyone with a science-related tattoo. Post a picture or a link to your picture in the comments.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]