CLOSE
Original image
Pedros Szekely

15 Fascinating Flamingo Facts

Original image
Pedros Szekely

Photograph by Pedros Szekely.

Flamingos are a familiar sight even to those who have never seen one in real life. The tropical wading birds have long legs with backward-bending knees, long curvy necks, and most noticeably, they are pink. We can admire flamingos or laugh at them (and often both), so we may as well learn something about them.

1. There are six distinct species of flamingo, but it takes a trained eye to distinguish them.

2. Adult flamingos are four to five feet tall, but only weigh between four and eight pounds. That’s the kind of astonishing body density (or lack of) needed for flight.

Photograph by Adam Baker.

3. Flamingos tend to congregate in mudflats or lagoons, where they can find shallow saltwater prey. These habitats are also difficult for predators to negotiate.

4. Flamingos feed by stirring up mud with their feet. Then they reach down and scoop up a beakful of mud and water. Their beaks are designed to strain animals out of the mud, and the muddy water is expelled. This happens as the flamingo’s head is upside-down.

5. The American flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) is the only flamingo species native to North America, but is rarely seen in the United States anymore. It is generally more brightly colored than the Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) that inhabits the coasts of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. Although the Greater flamingo is the most widespread species, the most numerous is the Lesser flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor).

Photograph by Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski. 

6. The color pink comes from beta-carotene in the crustaceans and plankton that flamingos eat. Zoo flamingos will turn white if their diet is not supplemented with live shrimp or flamingo chow containing carotenoid pigments.

7. The feathers under their wings (flight feathers) are black. You only see them when the birds are flying.

8. Flamingos flock in groups of up to several hundred birds. They often perform their mating displays together, like this flamingo flamenco. However, different species and even different flocks will put a slightly different spin on their communal rituals. Read about some of the individual mating dance moves

9. The male and female of a mating pair build a nest together, and both sit on the egg while it incubates for about a month.

10. Some flamingos find it easier to steal a nest that’s already been built, so mating pairs must guard a nest from other flamingos as well as predators.

11. When a flamingo chick hatches, both parents take turns feeding it: first with a special liquid baby food they produce in their throats called crop milk, then with regurgitated regular flamingo food as the chick ages.

Photograph by Flickr user Linda Tanner.

12. Flamingo chicks are born with grey and white feathers. They do not turn pink for a year or two. Their beaks are straight, and begin to curve as they grow and mature.

13. A variety of land predators will eat flamingos and their eggs, but since their nests are built on swampland or mudflats, the most common predators for flamingos are other birds.

Photograph by Dario Niz.

14. Flamingos are not endangered; they are classified as “least concern” as their numbers are fairly stable. Whether they stay stable will depend on what happens to their habitats and breeding grounds in the future. There is one related species that is declining, however…

Photograph by Flickr user Kim Kruse.

15. Plastic lawn flamingos (Phoenicopterus plasticus) are an American cultural icon that was introduced in 1957 by artist Don Featherstone. In the 21st century, they are considered endangered. Efforts are underway to revive the art form, and in 2009, Madison, Wisconsin, named the plastic pink flamingo the city’s official bird.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image
iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES