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Travel2Unlimited

10 Stunning Travel Photos From a Former Bond Trader

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Travel2Unlimited

Whenever we encounter an incredible place, who isn't compelled to take a photo beside it, if only to prove to everyone (and occasionally ourselves) that we were actually there? I asked uber-traveler Rus Margolin of Travel2Unlimited, a former bond trader turned world traveler, to send me his most epic photo ops and be our stand-in at extraordinary places we might not ordinarily go.

1. The Wave, Coyote Buttes, USA

Near the Arizona-Utah border is a remarkable sandstone formation known as the Wave. Located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, access is extremely limited: you can win one of only 20 daily permits either through an online lottery or just showing up early in the morning. “Then it’s a 12 mile return hike without a trail or a map. 50% of those attempting usually get lost without getting to the Wave,” says Rus. Get your permit, find your way, and prepare for an Epic. Photo. Op.

2. Kamchatka, Russia

Here’s an outdoor paradise located 8 time zones east of Moscow, with over 300 volcanoes, half of them active. “Climb Avachinsky volcano and peer in the active caldera, or walk into Mutnovsky caldera and see nature in action – steam, fumaroles, sulphur, gases and boiling mud,” says Rus. To get there you‘ll have to fly to Moscow and take a long flight to Petropavlovsk, but the photo ops are priceless.

3. Jellyfish Lake, Palau

Located in the Western Pacific, Palau offers some of the world’s best snorkeling, scuba diving, and underwater photo ops. Flying in from Tokyo or Guam, you can rent your own island for the day, hike in the tropical jungles, or float with millions of golden jellyfish in a bottomless lake. The jellies, rotating counter-clockwise as they float to the surface, are harmless. “You feel like you are on a different alien planet," says Rus.

4. Camping in Antarctica

To get this photo among thousands of Emperor penguins, Rus spent several days camping on an ice shelf off the coast of Antarctica. “You can spend hours watching them feed their chicks.” Emperor penguins are the largest of the penguin species. For this photo op, you’ll need to get on a 5-hour charter flight from Chile, and hop on another 4-hour small prop plane to the penguin ground. “It’s a once in a lifetime,” adds Rus.

5. The Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The world’s largest salt desert makes for epic photo ops, especially when you play around with perspective on the snow-white salt landscape. Create optical illusions (like Rus holding the 4x4 Land Rover), take huge jump photos, and snaps of you dipping in the bright red and green mineral lakes. “You may need to acclimate to the air at 15,000 feet before you go jumping ,” says Rus. To get to the Salar de Uyuni, either take the train from La Paz, or cross over the Atacama to Bolivia with a tour company from Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama.

6. The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan

A place name as epic as “The Door to Hell” demands an epic photo op. Located hundreds of miles from the nearest village in the middle of Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert, the door is actually a large crater caused by an ill-fated drill for natural gas. When the drilling rig collapsed into an underground cavern, it sparked a huge fire fed by unlimited quantities of gas. “The crater has been burning since 1971, “ says Rus. “It wasn’t easy to get here, but it was worth seeing the night light up by the burning hot inferno.”

7. Hang gliding in Rio

There are few cities as beautiful as Rio, and few experiences as epic as hang gliding. Hunky tandem instructors hang out at the beach in Sao Conrado, taking tourists up the mountain into Pedra Bonita national park for the flight of a lifetime. Launching off a wooden platform into thin air, you’ll be too busy gawking at the view below you to think about taking any photos. Fortunately, the instructors tape a remote-controlled camera to the wing for epic shots like these.

8. Somerset Island, Canada

When the midnight sun burns during summer in the high Arctic, it’s nigh on impossible not to take epic photos. “This is unadulterated, pure raw nature and you are part of it,” says Rus. We met each other at Arctic Watch, the most northerly eco-lodge in the world, where we hiked the tundra with muskox, watched thousands of beluga whales, and swam in crystal waterfalls like this one. Epic all the way.

9. Sossusvlei, Namibia

Sossusvlei sits inside Namib-Naukluft Desert National Park, an alien landscape of bright red and yellow dunes and semi-petrified trees. “Surreal would be a perfect word to describe it,” says Rus. Arriving late in the afternoon, watch the sun cast shadows on the dunes, some of which rise as high as 100 metres. “You can also hear the dunes moving if you stand still,” adds Rus. Another epic location, for an epic photo op.

10. Easter Island

Watching the sun rise or set over the mysterious moai statues in Easter Island has to belong on a list of epic photo ops. Most of the statues, located throughout the island, have fallen over, but some still stand upright. “Ahu Tongariki has the most moai for sunrise, and Ahu Hanga Roa is perfect for sunset,” says Rus. Nobody quite knows what prompted the islanders to erect the statues, and effectively wreck their civilization doing so. In the meantime, we’ll hop in the photo for another snap of a lifetime.

Follow Rus and his incredible journey around the world at Travel2Unlimited. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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