CLOSE

9 Deep Facts About the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is one of the most intriguing and interesting lakes in the world. Located at the lowest point on Earth, tourists from around the globe flock to this hypersaline phenomenon, which borders Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Dive into these nine fascinating facts about the "Salt Sea."

1. IT WAS FORMED FROM A RIFT IN THE EARTH'S CRUST.

The Dead Sea came to be because the crust was stretched thanks to a rift being formed. Known as a rift valley, the surface sunk down where the crust was particularly thin. Scientists estimate the Dead Sea may be sinking more each year, so book your tickets ASAP.

2. IT’S LOCATED AT THE LOWEST POINT ON EARTH.

The surface of the Dead Sea is over 1300 feet below sea level, making it the lowest point on Earth's surface. In the deepest part, it’s more than 2300 feet below sea level. It’s located on the edge of the Judean Desert, a very hot region at the foot of the Ha-He'etekim cliff. It’s close to Jerusalem, and the connecting point between the desert and developed land in the Middle East.

3. IT MAY HAVE INCREDIBLE HEALING POWERS.

When doctors prescribe a visit to the Dead Sea for their patients as a source of healing, you know something special is going on. With up to 32 percent salt and extremely high mineral content, the water is said to help people with respiratory issues, joint problems like arthritis, and many chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and cellulite. As you go farther into the water, this land-locked lake becomes saltier. The low UV rays from the sun and bromide in the air also contribute to natural healing.

4. IT’S ONE OF THE WORLD'S SALTIEST BODIES OF WATER.

Pete, on 14 May 2005, CC BY-SA 3.0

No need for flotation devices. Our bodies are more buoyant in the Dead Sea because of the high concentration of mineral salts that have dissolved. The Dead Sea is eight times saltier than the oceans and has the highest concentration of salt of any body of water in the world—so rather than swim, visitors literally float around. In fact, don’t even try to swim; it won't work.

5. IT’S BEEN A PLACE OF REFUGE SINCE BIBLICAL TIMES.

The Dead Sea is cited in the Hebrew Bible during the rule of King David as a place where he sought refuge. This famous sea is also mentioned in other biblical books throughout history. The first tourist to visit the Dead Sea was most likely Abraham. (Unfortunately there are no photos of Abraham slathering black mud on his skin or floating in the Dead Sea reading the newspaper to back this up.)

6. NO PLANTS OR ANIMALS CAN LIVE IN THE WATER.

No creatures can survive in the Dead Sea, which means no jumping dolphins, no swimming fish, and no seaweed to get stuck between your toes. The massive levels of salt prevent the existence of all life forms, except some bacteria discovered in recent years. Needless to say, don’t drink the water!

7. DEAD SEA MUD IS GREAT FOR YOUR SKIN.

HAZEM BADER/AFP/Getty Images

Almost as famous as the sea itself are the images of tourists slathering mud on their bodies, letting it harden, and then rinsing it off in the sea (as much as you can rinse off dried mud with salt water). The deposits of black mud come directly from the seabed. The mud is beneficial to your skin as it is high in magnesium, sodium, potassium, and calcium. Looking to purchase this world-famous mud in North America? No problem. Dead Sea mud and minerals are available online through AHAVA.

8. IT’S THE BIGGEST FREE SPA ON EARTH.

With all that healing mud, the Dead Sea is quite literally the biggest natural free spa on earth. But should you feel the need to indulge in further spa treatments, there are multiple hotels to choose from in the area that offer rejuvenating spa services, including the famous Ein Gedi Hotel.

9. YES, THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS WERE FOUND HERE.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found hidden in a cave in Qumran and contain some of the oldest copies ever discovered of the Hebrew Bible. They have been called the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. Portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls now make the occasional tour at various museums so we can learn about their significant history.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

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