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The Meteoric Rise of Left Shark

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I finally got around to watching the Super Bowl halftime show yesterday, because I wanted to see the sharks everyone was talking about. They stole the show in just a few seconds.

The dancer who came to be known as “Left Shark” has become an instant meme, not only because of the frankly weird but cute shark costume, but his seemingly confused and clumsy fin movements in those few seconds. These poor guys danced in multiple costumes that night, with little rehearsal because the original dancers from Mesa Community College were replaced by Katy Perry a few days before the show. Also, their choreographer said they were supposed to be goofy. Not that any critique of Left Shark’s performance mattered; the internet immediately fell in love with him.

The Birth of a Meme

As Venus was born from the sea, so was the Left Shark meme. That is, according to redditor soren121. While most sharks are born at sea, this one was birthed at the Super Bowl, and incubated on the internet.


YouTube member The Flippist did what he does with the new subject of Left Shark: he wasted no time at all getting this up on YouTube Sunday night before midnight.

Shark Boy and Lava Girl: The Sequel

Danny Nolan recognized these characters from a childhood film, even though they are all grown up now.

Shark Tank

Josh Laincz put the shark back on TV.


Yes, we all thought about putting the friendly, joyful, and somewhat inept Left Shark into the most terrifying shark story of all. SB Nation went ahead and did it.

Jumping the Shark

Michael Katz saw an obvious opportunity to incorporate Left Shark where he belongs.

Shark Week

But even if Left Shark has jumped the shark, we’ll no doubt see him again in August, according to redditor GutOfBrick.

Left Shark Tattoo

Matty Clark of Denver wasted no time at all in getting a Left Shark tattoo the day after the Super Bowl. Before you judge, this is not his first shark tattoo. In fact, his nickname is "Matty Shark."


On-demand printing makes it possible for a meme to be offered on a t-shirt as quickly as an artist can render a design, which for some is no time at all. Left Shark dances on this one from the NeatoShop. And it’s not the only one

San Jose Sharks

It occurred to hockey fans that the San Jose Sharks should incorporate this character. The jersey on the left is a joke, but the t-shirt on the right is not, and is being sold for fans to wear to the Stadium Series game.

Shark Suit

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There’s just enough time to get this exact suit designed and manufactured for Halloween 2015. Men's clothing outlet Bonobos is taking pre-orders already for a Shark Suit of your own. No doubt there will be others with Left Shark suits of varying quality and price points before October.

Left Shark was far from the only part of the Super Bowl halftime show that was mocked this week, but it emerged as the one image that will stay with us the longest. At least into next week. The Super Bowl Sharks reached peak mainstream last night with an appearance on The Late Late Show, guest-hosted by John Mayer.

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