Original image

7 Jurassic Park Dinosaurs: Then and Now

Original image

Nearly 20 years after it first stomped onto the screen in 1993, Stephen Spielberg’s special and visual effects masterpiece Jurassic Park is being re-released in 3D this week. However, not unlike earth’s ecosystem itself, the fascinating world of dinosaur paleontology is an ever-changing place. Over the last two decades, some truly astonishing new discoveries have been made, spanning just about every conceivable topic in the biology, behavior, and evolution of these animals. So, to honor this grand cinematic occasion, let’s take a look back at the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park and how recent discoveries have since changed our view of the magnificent creatures in its cast.  

1. Triceratops

A series of recent studies has proposed that the distinctive horns above Triceratops’ eyes would grow thicker and curve downward with age. For an account of a 2009 experiment that may help scientists understand how these dreaded weapons were put into practice, go here.

2. Parasaurolophus

We never hear a peep out of them in the movie, but in 1998, Tom Williamson of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science worked with a team of computer scientists to digitally simulate what Parasaurolophus may have actually sounded like some 75 million years ago. Check it out:

3. Dilophosaurus

Though absolutely no evidence exists to suggest that Dilophosaurus was actually venomous as seen in Jurassic Park, one of the animal’s original discoverers, the late Sam Welles of the University of California Museum of Paleontology, quickly became a fan of the film. In the mid-90s, he dedicated a delightfully-informative web page to the biology, unearthing, and cinematic debut of his beloved dinosaur. “I thoroughly enjoyed the movie”, said Welles, “and was very happy to find Dilophosaurus an internationally-known actor.”

4. Brachiosaurus

Could such a massive dinosaur really stand on two limbs without toppling over, as shown in the breathtaking clip above? Given the fact that the beast’s front legs were significantly longer than its back ones (and, hence, the name Brachiosaurus literally means “arm lizard”), paleontologist Heinrich Mallison argued in 2011 that, in Brachiosaurus’ case, rearing would include “a high risk of serious injury should the animal become unbalanced,” though he argued that some other species of sauropods (“long-necked” dinos) would’ve been able to do so.

5. Tyrannosaurus

“I think the hero of this movie is the T. rex,” Spielberg once said. He certainly isn’t the only one to have fallen in love with the “Tyrant Lizard King”: Tyrannosaurus is easily the most exhaustively-studied dinosaur of all time. One of Jurassic Park’s most famous sequences—in which a hungry “rex” hits speeds of 45 miles per hour while charging after a jeep—has come under fire in recent years. A 2002 analysis argued that, for this to occur, 86 percent of its muscle mass would have had to have been concentrated in its legs, a ludicrously implausible notion.

6. Gallimimus

A flock of these ostrich-like dinosaurs are seen stampeding away from a hungry T. rex in the third act of the film. Were the sequence shot today, the creatures’ arms would’ve been positioned differently: notice that the terrified Gallimimus hold their palms downward in this scene.

However, recent findings have confirmed that, in life, the hands of this sinuous dino and its kin would’ve faced each other instead, a position also favored by present-day birds.

7. Velociraptor

Over a decade after its last installment, a fourth film will finally be added to the Jurassic Park franchise next summer. The new movie may still be over a year away, but it’s already managed to stir up some scientific controversy. Director Colin Trevorrow recently tweeted that, in order to preserve series continuity, the “raptors” involved will not be given feathers, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that these swift predators were at least partially covered with them. A series of bumps known as “quill knobs,” which anchor large feathers in modern birds, were found on the forearms of a Mongolian specimen in 2007. As for the original Jurassic Park, a great deal has been written about the accuracy of its Velociraptors—here's a basic summary

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]