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10 Insane Buildings Currently Under Construction

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If these wild, under-construction buildings are any indication, the future is near, and it will be extremely tall and draped in glass.

1. Kingdom Tower

Set to dwarf the world’s tallest building—the United Arab Emirates’ Burj Khalifaby over 550 feet, Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower will be the planet’s first building to top a kilometer in height. The $1.2 billion project, located in Jeddah, will house luxury condos, office space, an observatory, a Four Seasons hotel, and feature the world’s highest sky terrace on the 157th floor (still quite a ways from the top, fyi). Construction on the project officially started last year, and the building is due to be completed in 2019.

2. Shanghai Tower

In the works since 1993, China’s $4.2 billion, 121-floor Shanghai Tower was topped out earlier this year and is now wrapping construction. It is currently the world’s second tallest building, but the Tower isn’t officially set to open until 2015. Still, millions of people have already seen the view from the top thanks to vertigo-inducing snaps and videos, shot by two Russian daredevils who illicitly climbed to the top, which went viral last year. The mixed-use Tower is composed of nine distinct vertical zones and is surrounded by a layer of transparent glass skin to filter weather and provide natural ventilation.

3. The Dubai Pearl

Somewhere between designing artificial islands shaped like the world, the largest mall known to man, and, of course, the planet’s tallest building, someone decided Dubai should also be home to a luxury development that looks vaguely like a regular building that has ominously sprung massive legs. The Dubai Pearl, overlooking the Persian Gulf and set to top out at 73 stories, kicked off construction in 2009 and is due for completion in 2016. The planned “integrated city” features four towers connected by a sky bridge, and will include a 1,800-seat premium theatre and serve as home to the Dubai International Film Festival.

4. Agora Garden Tower

Coming in 2016, Taipei's double-helix-shaped Agora Garden Tower will split the difference between man and Mother Nature. The twisty, 20-story luxury residential building will be green in every sense of the word, with balconies on each floor to support gardens, and state-of-the-art sustainable features including solar cells and rainwater recycling .

5. World One

When it’s completed next year, the 117-floor World One tower will be the tallest residential building on the planet and far and away the tallest building in Mumbai, nearly doubling the 61-floor Imperial Towers that currently hold the latter title. World One will be home to some of Mumbai’s wealthiest residents, with 300 luxury 3 and 4-bedroom units that start at $1.5 million, and feature designs by Giorgio Armani's Armani/Casa studio. Fancy, but World One might not hold the “Mumbai’s Tallest” title for long, considering the currently-on-hold India Tower is planned to reach 126 stories.

6. King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center

Closer to the ground than most of the buildings on this list but every bit as mind-blowing, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC, for short-ish) looks more like a Bond villain's lair than a multinational non-profit. The futuristic crystallized design is the brainchild of Iraqi-born architecture icon Zaha Hadid, who designed the center as a series of interlocking, six-sided cells. Construction on the project started in 2009 and, as of 2014, the steel frame has been completed, but it’s currently unclear when the facility will be open for business.

7. Suzhou Zhongnan Center

Construction just recently started on Suzhou, China’s 2,391-foot, 138-story Suzhou Zhongnan Center, meaning there’s still a long, long (long) way to go. But if the pointy, $4.5 billion project is completed on schedule in 2020, it will be the tallest building in China and the third-tallest on earth. The hotel, office, and residential tower will be located beside the nearly-complete 69-story Gate of the Orient, which, as has repeatedly been noted, looks a whole lot like a big pair of pants.

8. Lotte World Tower

Set to hover well above anything else in Seoul, South Korea’s skyline, the Lotte World Tower will top out at 1,824 feet and 123 stories tall when it’s completed in 2016. The building will feature, from the bottom up, retail, offices, apartments, a hotel, and a public observation space on top. It will also notably overtake North Korea’s extraordinary pyramidical Ryugyong Hotel as the largest building on the Korean Peninsula.

9. Dawang Mountain Resort

Sick of hotels that don’t delicately hover between two cliffs over an abandoned quarry and a lake? Changsha, China’s Dawang Mountain Resort should have you covered come 2016. Spreading over 170 meters from end to end, the resort will feature “an entertainment ice world” with indoor skiing, a water park and hanging gardens.

10. Songjiang Hotel

Apparently, luxuriating in structures creatively built around quarries and lakes is the next big thing in high-class Chinese vacationing. Like the Dawang Mountain Resort, the Songjiang Hotel rests quarry-side, but the 19-story Shanghai-adjacent hotel will actually be built directly over the quarry’s walls, with a waterfall flowing over the facade. Oh, and if you don’t have the incredible view from one of the higher floors, you might want to go for one of the bottom two, since they’ll be submerged under water.

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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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