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6 Other Animals Dogs Will Adopt

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Yesterday we showcased some of the world's most eccentric interspecies adoptions. From picking up chicks to big cat wrangling, Part II of our Mother's Day Interspecies Adoption Special looks at the adoption habits of man's best friend.

1. Chicks

In China, a chihuahua named HuaHua has adopted a chick. For whatever reason, the dog began to take care of the bird almost immediately after it was brought home. When the chick strays too far from it's cot, HuaHua scoops the bird up in her mouth and walks the chick back to safety. As you can see, the chick looks delighted with this arrangement.

2. Ducks

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Dogs and birds are a pretty popular pairing. Young birds imprint on the first species they interact with after birth, so in many cases the birds begin to believe that the dog is their mother. Ben the Border Collie lets ducklings snuggle up next to him and herds them to safety.

3. Squirrels

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In Seattle, Mademoiselle Giselle, a pregnant dog, adopted Finnegan, a baby squirrel. Owner Debby Cantlon rescued the injured squirrel and Giselle helped her nurse him back to health, making the squirrel part of the litter and even letting him nurse alongside his puppy siblings.

4. Pigs

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A few months back the Daily Dachshund blog wrote about Tink the wiener dog, who has adopted Pink the piglet. Much brouhaha was had about the legitimacy of the photos, but much like Charlotte's Wilbur, Pink was a preemie piglet and the story has indeed been verified. When Tink the dachshund had given birth a few days earlier, she had only one puppy. Since she was already fostering another dog's puppies, Tink's owner decided to try and see how well she would do with a piglet. A few weeks later, Pink was successfully weaned and put up for adoption.

5. Deer

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At Knowsley Safari Park near Liverpool, UK, a rare baby Pere David deer, Mi-Lu, was rejected by his mother since she did not want twins. Luckily, he was adopted by the park dogs, Geoffrey and Kipper. The three sleep and take daily walks together.

6. Tigers (?)

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Not to be outdone, several zoos in China allow dogs to nurse baby tigers that have been rejected by their mothers. Dog urine is smeared on the baby tigers' fur to trick the nursing dog. Not to worry—baby tigers are born toothless. This particular dog, Huani, doesn't seem to mind nursing the tigers at all, according to her handlers at the Jinan Paomaling Wild Animal World in Shandong, China.

As for the famous tiger-nursing-piglets photos, they're more staged publicity stunt than actual instinct. (Sorry.)

Drop by again tomorrow for some very less responsive adoptive mothers. Like cleaning brushes.

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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