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11 Great Geeky Math Tattoos

1. Polly Want A Tattoo?

It shouldn’t be all too surprising that when it comes to math tattoos, Pi designs are the most common. The majority of these designs are either blocks of numbers or the basic Pi symbol. But at least one person came up with a more creative tattoo: They used the symbol as a perch for a parrot named Pie. I can’t tell you who owns Pie and has this great tattoo, but I can tell you it was done by artist Shannon Archuleta.

2. I Heart Pi

When it comes to tattoos of Pi number strings, Scruffy’s design is one of the best: She used the numbers to create the shape of a heart. As one Geeky Tattoos commenter pointed out, it works on a second level because no one knows how long Pi goes on, just as no one knows the depths of true love.

This lovely tattoo was done by Steve at Art Freek Tattoo.

3. Sea Spiral

Perhaps second behind Pi in math tattoos is the Golden Spiral. While there are plenty out there, Thom’s version, which shows the perfect ratios of a nautilus shell, is by far one of the most visually striking—and it certainly does a good job at reflecting his stance that mathematics is the language of nature.

4. The Number Game

While the digits making up the Golden Ratio tend to not look as aesthetically appealing as the image of a Golden Spiral, Milad’s tattoo is still fascinating—especially because he ensured that the rectangle formed by the digits features sides in the proportion of the Golden Ratio. Milad got the design because the Golden Ratio is the precise reason he became fascinated by math at a young age, and because the design is the closest mathematical explanation of beauty.

5. A Strong Foundation

Mark’s tattoo might not be the most stunning out there, but it’s still something close to his heart: He loves math so much that he chose to get the Zermelo-Fraenkel with Choice axioms of Set Theory, the nine axioms that make up the foundation of mathematics.

That’s not Mark’s only math tattoo. On his other arm, he has the Y Combinator formula.

6. Have A Heart

After learning her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on Valentine’s Day, Josephine got a tattoo of one of the formulas for a heart curve, a fitting symbol of support and a great tribute to any loving mother.

7. The Gods of Math

Alison is a high school physics teacher who also studies world religion and draws spiritual inspiration from the natural laws of the universe. To reflect this approach to life, she decided to get the Mandelbrot set, the equation for hydrostatic equilibrium, the equation describing entropy, and the Delta symbol on her back to symbolize the powers of creation, preservation, destruction, and change in the world.

8. Schrodinger’s Tattoo

In the future, Brittany hopes to be what she calls a “wacky, flannel-sportin’ physicist." Her first step toward achieving that goal was getting Schrodinger’s equation for the wave function of a particle tattooed on her back, because it represents the fundamental source of “quantum weirdness.” She says she likes the design because it reminds her that “no matter what happens in my life, there is an infinitely Glorious Plan swirling all about us.”

9. HumbleBragg

Josephine Schuppang studied Crystallography at the Technical University in Berlin. After writing her thesis on the transmission electron microscopy of nitride semiconductors, she wanted to get a tattoo to mark the occasion, but because all the formulas she used were too long and complex, she decided to stick with the fundamental formula of Bragg’s Law.

10. Musical Math

Here’s one most of us probably remember from algebra. That’s right, it’s the legendary Quadratic Formula. Sharon, an undergraduate math student at Arcadia University, got the design to show her love for mathematical formulas and equations. This particular formula is one of her favorites because she learned to sing it to the tune of “Pop! Goes the weasel"—which means this is probably the most musical of all math tattoos as well.

11. Spaced Out

Juan Barredo spotted this lovely set of Maxwell’s Equations on the back of a fellow attendee at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace Conference in Washington D.C. The equations, which relate to space-time formulations, certainly fit in at a place like that.

Special thanks to Discover magazine’s Science Tattoo Emporium, which is loaded with great math and science tattoos (as the name implies). I know plenty of you Flossers have tattoos and when we posted the librarian and book tattoos articles, many of you posted your own photos of tattoos that fit in those categories. So do any of you math-lovers have formulas or mathematical symbol tattoos? If so, please share them in the comments!

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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
iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image
iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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