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More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Sleeping Patterns of Hummingbirds

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There are some topics you probably never thought you'd be interested in, including the nocturnal habits of hummingbirds. But there exists a YouTube video that is so fascinating (read: adorable), it begs exploration of this topic. In the video, a green female hummingbird slumbers, and with every one of its tiny breaths, the bird lets out a high-pitched sigh, making it appear as though it is ... snoring.

So, what exactly is going on here? Do hummingbirds actually snore?

"Maybe … sort of … but not for the same reasons we do," says Joe Hanson at his (awesomely named) blog, It's Okay to be Smart. We humans snore when our airways are obstructed during sleep. The story behind this bird is much cooler.

The video was taken at a Peru research facility while the hummingbird slept in a special container meant to measure its oxygen intake. The goal of this experiment was to examine the metabolism of hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds beat their wings between 12 and 80 times per second, depending on the species. To make up for all that lost energy, the creatures consume the human equivalent of a refrigerator full of food every day. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds don't have insulating feathers to keep them warm, thus they are incredibly vulnerable when cold weather strikes. To keep themselves from freezing, at night, hummingbirds slip into a kind of hibernation, called torpor. This state allows them to lower their internal temperature and consume up to 50 times less energy. "This way, they aren’t burning calories on cold nights when they aren’t able to eat and recharge," Hanson says. The birds' brains power down, and their breathing becomes so shallow as to be almost undetectable. Torpid hummingbirds are sleeping so deeply, it looks like they're dead.

To awaken from such a deep state of hibernation takes some time—about 20 minutes, actually. The heartbeat increases, normal breathing patterns resume, and the birds begin to shiver, which helps warm their muscles and increase bloodflow. Hanson hypothesizes the bird in this video is in a state of awakening, "starting to breathe in more oxygen to raise its body temperature," and making a "snoring" noise in the process.

Enough science! For your entertainment, here are some other snoring animals.

A pig:

A bunny:

A doormouse:

A duck:

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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