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22 Things You Might Not Know About Hawaii

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Hau`oli la Hanau, Hawaii! Yes, you read that right. It was only 54 years ago today that Hawaii became a U.S. state. Let's celebrate with 22 facts about the Aloha State.   

1. If you guessed that "hau`oli la hanau" means "happy birthday," you're right. But you might need that sounded out: how-oh-lay la ha-now. The Hawaiian language comes with a bit of a learning curve. For starters, there's only a 13-letter alphabet and every word—and syllable—ends with one of five vowels. 

2. That apostrophe-like mark you see in some words is called an ʻokina. It's a consonant that signifies a slight pause. If two words are spelled exactly alike, but one has an ʻokina, you're looking at two different words. For example, "moa" means "chicken," while "mo'a" means "cooked." 

3. The kahakō symbol is a line placed over a vowel. It directs speakers to stretch out a vowel sound. Speaking of which....

A is pronounced “ah”
E is pronounced “eh”
I is pronounced “ee”
O is pronounced “oh”
U is pronounced “oo”

You might be wondering, "Is there a great song to summarize everything I just read? A fun song for children that will get stuck in my head all day long?" Yes, here it is:

4. The state of Hawaii consists of 8 main islands, the biggest of which is called, you guessed it, the Big Island. The Big Island's official name is Hawai'i.

5. The Big Island's getting bigger—by more than 42 acres each year—thanks to Kīlauea Volcano. It's been erupting for 30 years!

6. Mauna Loa, the world's biggest volcano, is also on the Big Island. Astronauts once trained for moon voyages by walking on its hardened lava fields. Most recently, six NASA-funded researchers spent months on the northern slope simulating a Mars space station.

7. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee, cacao, and vanilla beans. (Also: It can take up to five years to grow a single vanilla bean.)

8. The Aloha State's also good at growing ... people. It's got the highest life expectancy in the United States, despite the fact that...

9. The people of Hawaii consume the most Spam per capita in the U.S.

10. The average life expectancy of 81.3 years might have something to do with the fact that the state's healthcare system insures more than 90 percent of its residents and focuses on preventive care. Since 1975, businesses have been legally required to insure employees who work over 20 hours per week. 

11. No matter how old you are, only people with Hawaiian ancestry are called “Hawaiians.” People of non-Hawaiian ancestry—even those born and raised there—call themselves “locals."

12. One Hawaiian: Theridion grallator, also known as the happy face spider.

13. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hawaii has the highest percentage of Asian Americans (38.6 percent) and multiracial Americans (23.6 percent) in the United States. It also has the lowest percentage of White Americans (24.7 percent).

14. Regardless of ancestry, most families traditionally celebrate a child's first birthday with a luau.

15. No celebration's complete without a lei. The flower garlands come with strict rules. For starters, it's impolite to refuse a lei, remove it in front of the person who gave it to you, or wear one that you intend to give to someone else. A lei should never be thrown away. Instead, it should traditionally be returned to the earth, ideally to where its flowers were gathered. And it's bad luck to give a tied lei to a pregnant woman, as it suggests an umbilical cord around a baby's neck.

16. There are no seagulls in Hawaii. The closest thing is the white tern, a seabird that lays eggs directly on tree branches without building a nest to protect them. 

Wikimedia Commons

17. Hawaii has its own time zone 10 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. It's also one of two U.S. states that doesn't practice Daylight Saving Time. (Arizona's the other one.)

18. Barbecue aficionados in Hawaii prefer meat smoked with guava wood, instead of hickory or mesquite.

19. The state gem isn't a gem at all. Black coral is technically an animal, but it's often used to make jewelry.

20. The Aloha State is one of four that have outlawed billboards. (The others are Alaska, Maine, and Vermont.)

21. Snakes are also outlawed. The only legal serpents are housed in zoos.

22. When you picture a beautiful Hawaiian getaway, you might imagine a black or white beach. They also come in yellow, red, and green

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technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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