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10 Plants That Smell Like Meat

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We enjoy flowers because of their colors, shapes and scents, but all those bells and whistles are not intended for us. They’re meant to attract pollinators—usually bees and butterflies, but some plants prefer flies and carrion-eating beetles. To tempt these discerning insects, some flowers emit an odor similar to rotting flesh. There are a number of varieties of stinking flowers, or carrion flowers, as they’re sometimes called. We’ve listed some of the most outlandish.

1. Rafflesia arnoldii

This rare meaty red flower (above) is found in Borneo and Sumatra, growing parasitically on the roots of a vine found in the rainforest. It’s enormous, measuring up to three feet across. The buds take several months to develop into flowers, and the flowers last only a few days. They are one of several varieties of Rafflesia, all pollinated by flies.

2. Pawpaw

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These small understory trees are native to eastern North America. The fruits have been compared to mangos in texture and to bananas in flavor, but they don’t ship or store well so they aren’t often sold in stores. They’re pollinated by flies and beetles, and the large flowers are droopy and purply-red. Like flesh.

3. Stapelia gigantea

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This African succulent produces hairy star-shaped flowers that are an attractive yellow color shot with red veins—and smell like rotting flesh. Sometimes called a toad plant, this and other varieties of stapelia are grown as houseplants around the world.

4. Mexican Calabash or Jicaro

Flickr: Jayshp912

This Central American tree produces putrid trumpet flowers that form on the branches and trunk. The fruit, hard and gourd-like, has edible seeds. The hard shell is sometimes used to make jewelry and bowls.

5. Amorphophallus titanum

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The name of this plant means “giant misshapen phallus” in Greek. It’s found in the rainforests of Sumatra, along with the Rafflesia. The flowers can be up to 10 feet tall, and are pollinated by both beetles and flies.

6. Birthwort

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This climbing vine has heart-shaped leaves and poisonous tubular flowers. It’s found in Europe, and was used medicinally for pregnant women until it was discovered that the plant causes kidney failure.

7. Western skunk cabbage

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This odiferous plant, named for its skunky aroma, is found along streambanks in the Pacific Northwest, ranging as far north as Alaska and as far south as Santa Cruz. The flowers look a little like bright yellow calla lilies.

8. Stinkhorn mushrooms

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This family of mushrooms smells like rotting flesh and poop, which gets flies all excited. The flies help spread spores so the mushrooms can reproduce.

9. Stink Lily

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The Dracunculus vulgaris, also known as the stink lily, comes from Greece and the surrounding area. The flowers are dark purple and smell like meat. It’s grown as an ornamental plant in North America.

10. Dead horse arum lily

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This plant from the Mediterranean is pollinated by blowflies—you know, the ones that lay their eggs in cadavers and help forensics experts determine the time of death? The beefsteak-colored flowers also generate heat, further tricking flies into thinking they’re landing on delicious decomposing meat.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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