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6 Assorted Animal Adventures

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So many readers enjoyed the post 5 Famous Felines, I thought you might like some stories of other famous animals. Here are six of them.

1. Stubby the Military Dog.

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Stubby wandered into the encampment and was adopted by the 102nd infantry of Massachusetts in 1917. When the infantry shipped out to Europe, Stubby was smuggled onto the ship bound for France. During World War I, Stubby kept watch and alerted the troops to German attacks. He was wounded by a hand grenade once and gassed several times. He once found a German spy and held him by the seat of the pants until American troops could complete the capture! When his master, Corporal J. Robert Conroy was wounded, Stubby accompanied him to the hospital and made rounds to cheer the troops. He was eventually a highly decorated dog, amassing medals for service, campaigns and battles, a Purple Heart, and various veteran's awards. A group of French women made Stubby a chamois blanket decorated with allied flags to display his medals.

Stubby returned home at the end of the war and became quite a celebrity. He was made a lifetime member of the American Legion, the YMCA, and the Red Cross. He lived at the Y and made recruiting tours for the Red Cross. When Stubby passed on in 1926, he was preserved and displayed with his medals at the Smithsonian Institution.

2. Bubba the Chemotherapy Fish

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Bubba was a 154-pound Queensland Grouper who lived in the 400,000 gallon shark tank at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. In 2001, he was diagnosed with cancer. In 2002, and again in 2003, Bubba underwent surgery and chemotherapy to fight the tumors. He was the first fish to ever undergo chemotherapy treatment, and the resulting publicity was an inspiration to cancer patients, particularly children. Bubba died suddenly in 2006, at age 24.

The ammo-loading bear, the sportscaster monkey, and more, after the jump.

3. Tirpitz, the Swimming Pig of World War I

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Tirpitz was a pig carried on the German warship SMS Dresden in 1914 as a food source. The Dresden was sunk in battle with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Glasgow off the coast of South America. Tirpitz managed to escape the sinking ship and swam towards the Glasgow. The crew brought him aboard an adopted him as a mascot, awarding him the Iron Cross for bravery. After a year on the Glasgow, he was tranferred to the Whale Island Gunnery School in Portsmouth. Tirpitz was eventually auctioned off as pork, but in his final act he raised £1,785 for the British Red Cross. His head was mounted and can be seen at the Imperial War Museum in London.

4. Voytek, the Bear who Joined the Polish Army

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An Iranian boy in the mountains of Hamadan rescued an abandoned bear cub in 1942. He sold the bear to a unit of the Polish Army Corps passing through the area. A soldier named Peter raised the cub, who became bonded with humans. He lived, marched, and even wrestled with the soldiers. When the unit was ordered to Rome in 1944, pets were specifically prohibited. So they drew up papers and enlisted Voytek as a soldier in the 22nd Transport Division (Artillery Supply) of the Polish 2nd Army Corps. With such credentials, he could hardly be denied entry! During the battle of Monte Cassino, Voytek loaded truck after truck with heavy shells, artillery boxes and food sacks to be sent to isolated ally forces. He never dropped a single shell.

One of the soldiers happened to sketch a picture of Voytek carrying a largeWojtekemblem.jpg artillery shell in his arms, and this image became the symbol of the 22nd artillery transport, worn proudly on the sleeves of their uniforms ever afterwards and emblazoned on all the unit's vehicles.

After the war, Voytek enjoyed a hero's welcome in Scotland, where people were astonished to see him marching side-by-side with the soldiers he served with. Voytek spent the rest of his life at the Edinburgh Zoo, where he died in 1963.

5. Maggie the Sportscaster Monkey

11maggie.jpg Maggie is a crab-eating macaque born in 1991 at the Bowmanville Zoo in Canada. In 2003, sportcasters from the Canadian broadcaster TSN decided to try out their prediction skills against a monkey, and Maggie was chosen to try. She make her selections for the Stanley Cup Playoffs by spinning a wheel, and ended the season out-predicting one sportscaster, tying two, and finished one guess behind the other three. In 2004, she was given her own TV segment, and although her predictions weren't as accurate as the year before, she kept pace with the human sportscasters. In 2006, Maggie's predictions were more accurate than the three humans on the panel! She didn't do so well in 2007, but her popularity more than makes up for her accuracy.

6. Timothy the Naval Tortoise

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A tortoise was confiscated by the Royal Navy from a Portuguese privateer in 1854. Timothy was made a navy mascot and served on several ships during the Crimean War. Timothy also traveled by ship to the East Indies and China, and was awarded service medals for the campaigns. Afterward, Timothy retired to the estate of the Earl of Devon, surviving through several generations of the family. The family motto was etched on Timothy's underside, "Where Have I fallen, what have I done?" In 1926, when given the opportunity to mate, it was discovered that Timothy was a female! The name remained, however, since she'd had it for the better part of century by then. Timothy died in 2004, at the estimated age of 160!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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