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Gryffindor via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

9 Amazing Underwater-Themed Restaurants 

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Gryffindor via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL

Plenty of restaurants sport great decor, but it's not every day you can say you ate with the fishes. Watching sea creatures glide past your meal can be a uniquely soothing experience, and several restaurants around the world are ready to provide it—whether that means actually descending below the surface of the ocean or eating in an above-sea-level world with a giant aquarium as part of the construction.

1. AL MAHARA // DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Al Mahara in Dubai has added its star chef to the restaurant's name, and is now called Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara. Four-star seafood may be second to the view, however. The restaurant is at the Burj Al Arab hotel, but there are no windows. Instead, diners are seated around a floor-to-ceiling 700,000-gallon marine aquarium. Al Mahara is also famous for its prices, high even by Dubai standards.

2. SUBSIX // MALDIVES

Subsix is one of nine restaurants at the PER AQUUM Niyama resort in the Maldives. Located about a third of a mile offshore from the rest of the resort, it's also about 20 feet, or six meters, below sea level—hence the name. The only way to get there is by speedboat. You can enjoy lunch and dinner daily while relaxing in the anemone-inspired chairs, dance at the Underwater Glow Party on Wednesday and Saturday nights, or rent the whole place for a private champagne breakfast or dinner.

3. CARGO HOLD // DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA

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How about lunch under the watchful eye of sharks? The Cargo Hold restaurant is part of the uShaka Marine World theme park, which boasts 32 aquarium tanks, with acrylic glass walkways leading to five shipwrecks. The Cargo Hold is nestled inside the stern of the Phantom Ship—a 1920s cargo steamer—with plenty of glass so diners can watch both the shark tank and a marine wildlife tank as they eat.

4. ITHAA UNDERSEA RESTAURANT // MALDIVES

Ithaa Undersea Restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Hotel on Rangali Island claims to be the world's first all-glass undersea restaurant (the name comes from a Maldivian word that means "mother-of-pearl"). The domed walls and roof offer a constant background of marine animals and coral scenery that can be enjoyed alongside lunch and dinner, all served 16 feet below sea level. Mid-morning cocktails are also on offer, and the place can be reserved for special occasions such as weddings.

5. ATRIUM BAR // BERLIN, GERMANY

Eric Pancer via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

The Atrium Bar inside the Radisson Blu Hotel in Berlin isn't underwater, but it definitely has an aquatic feel. The hotel atrium serves breakfast, and the bar is open all day. Hanging above the bar is a 80-foot-high aquarium called the AquaDom. The world's largest cylindrical aquarium contains a million liters (260,000 gallons) of salt water and 1500 tropical fish. Don't worry about it falling; the aquarium has been there since 2004.

6. AQUARIUM RESTAURANT // FOUR LOCATIONS, USA

For an underwater dining experience far from the sea, check out Aquarium, a chain of four restaurants, with locations in Denver, Nashville, Houston, and Kemah, Texas. In Nashville, you'll dine in the glass-enclosed sections of a 200,000-gallon saltwater fish tank. In Denver, there's a million-gallon aquarium. The various locations have tours outside of dinner, theme park rides, and educational programs.

7. SHARKS UNDERWATER GRILL // ORLANDO, FLORIDA

Sharks Underwater Grill is a restaurant that adjoins the Shark Encounter tank at Sea World Orlando. The fish swimming by will likely be much bigger than the fish you order for lunch!

8. SEA // MALDIVES

The acrylic glass-enclosed SEA at Anantara Kihavah Villas is one of several restaurants at the Kihavah resort in the Maldives, but the only one that provides views of coral reefs at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. The octagonal restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and has the world's only underwater wine cellar.

9. 5.8 UNDERSEA RESTAURANT, MALDIVES

5.8 Undersea Restaurant at Hurawalhi Maldives Resort is constructed almost completely of acrylic glass for a world-class view. The name comes from the fact that it sits 5.8 meters (about 19 feet) below the surface of the Indian Ocean. The walls and roof are domed for a spectacular view of the wildlife that calls the Maldives' coral reefs home. But it may not be the best place for a big group: The restaurant can only accommodate 16 people.

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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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