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11 Vintage Science Charts and Diagrams 

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Charts and diagrams have long been used to help visualize various aspects of science, and vintage infographics provide a look at what learning was like a hundred years ago. Students could find these charming illustrations in textbooks, classroom posters, and even inside cigarette packs.

1. Decomposition of Light - 1856

Edward Livingston Youmans, the founder of Popular Science, penned a beautifully illustrated textbook called Chemical Atlas: Or, The Chemistry of Familiar Objects.The book holds a number of colorful and educational diagrams, and the original is worth a little over $3000. This illustration from the text shows how white light is refracted into the colors of the rainbow. 

2. Progress of Animal Life - 1872

Trees live for a really long time, as shown by this nifty chart, which appeared in an old issue of Popular Science. It shows animal life flourishing alongside growing sequoias. The sections of a tree are shown with corresponding events in history, to illuminate how trunk size shows the passage of time. 

3. From Fish to Man - (date unknown)

Lantern slides were introduced in 1849, and remained in classrooms for about a century. Before modern projectors and Smart Boards, they were extremely useful for visual learning. This slide shows "our faces from fish to man." The colors were added by hand using special tints. DISCLAIMER: This is definitely not an accurate representation of evolutionary biology.

4. Astronomy - 1929

A beautifully illustrated print of the planets, seasons, solstices, and other astrological elements. The text is in Spanish, despite the fact that the chart was published in Paris, France.

5. Optics - Mid 1800s

John Philipps Emslie illustrated a variety of diagrams, maps, and old-timey infographics. This particular diagram illustrates how eyes pick up and interpret light.  

6. The Constellations - (date unknown)

A map of constellations is explained as "strange creatures you can see in the sky." This simplified map helped children learn the groups of stars without the Greek mythological terms. Ursa Major and Auriga are reduced to "The Great Bear" and "The Charioteer." Somehow, Perseus wasn't translated to "that guy who killed the snake lady."

7. Minerals - 1930s

Here is a handy guide for identifying select minerals. It comes from a book about minerals, gems, and precious stones.

8. Meteorology - Mid 1800s

Here is another gorgeous illustration by John Philipps Emslie. This one focuses on meteorology.

9. Tides - 1935

When only soft-pack cigarettes were being made, manufacturers needed a way to keep the packaging stiff. Cigarette cards kept the pack rigid and featured anything from celebrities to race horses. Some even showed basic science diagrams—like the one above that features the different tides. 

10. Environment and Locomotion in Mammals - 1943

This chart was featured in the May issue of the Natural History magazine. It shows how different animals get around in their environment. Check out how much air that jack rabbit is getting!

11. Chemistry of Combustion and Illumination - 1856 

This diagram, also featured in Youmans' textbook, shows the structure of a flame. It illustrates atoms as colored squares to help students visualize the science behind fire.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]