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7 Heroic Dogs

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Although a pack mentality is natural for a dog, their bravery, loyalty, and selflessness can boggle the mind and warm the heart. Here are a few stories that illustrate what dogs are all about.

Sinbad, the Coast Guard Dog

Sinbad was a mixed breed puppy who was adopted by the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Campbell in 1938. He eventually enlisted, meaning he had the proper paperwork to qualify as a Coast Guard sailor, and even had his own uniform. He served for eleven years on the same ship. After a battle with the Nazi submarine U-606, the Campbell was badly damaged and most of the crew debarked. Of course, a good dog never debarks, so Sinbad stayed on with the most essential crew members as the ship was towed to port. Sinbad lived to enjoy retirement and quite a bit of publicity about his service.

Zoey, the Snake Handler

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Size is no barrier to a dog determined to protect her family. Zoey the chihuahua weighs only five pounds, but she rose to the occasion when needed last summer. One-year-old Booker West was playing in his grandparent's backyard in Colorado when a rattlesnake struck at him! Zoey sprang into action, putting herself between the snake and the toddler. She sustained bites and was rushed to a veterinary hospital. Her head swelled and she almost lost an eye, but with anti-venom treatment, Zoey made a full recovery.

Hachiko, the World's Most Loyal Dog

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Hachiko, an Akita who lived in Tokyo, was extremely loyal to his master, professor Hidesamuro Ueno. He waited every day for Ueno to return from work, meeting him at the train station at four o'clock. In 1925, Ueno suffered a stroke at work and died. Still, Hachiko went to the station every day at four and searched through the crowd for his master. Every day. For ten years. Which was the rest of his life. Upon his death in 1935, Hachiko was a national celebrity. His remains were stuffed and put on display at the National Science Museum in Tokyo. A statue of Hachiko stands at Shibuya Station as a tribute to the dog's unwavering loyalty.

Velvet Warmth on a Cold Night

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In February of 2007, eight mountain climbers were caught by a snowstorm on Mt. Hood in Oregon. Climbing down, three of the group fell off a ledge along with Velvet, a black labrador. They were separated from the other five climbers, but continued climbing down. The group was forced to spend the night on the mountain before rescue could arrive. Velvet spent the night lying on each person in turn, helping to keep them warm in the storm.

"The dog probably saved their lives" by lying across them during the cold night, said Erik Brom, a member of the Portland Mountain Rescue team. He described the wind in the canyon as "hellacious."

Chips, the War Hero

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A German shepherd named Chips was donated to the war effort by his owners shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. He became a tank guard dog and eventually the most decorated dog of World War II. Several times he alerted his handler to an impending attack. Once he attacked a pillbox of Italian soldiers who were firing on his unit until they came out and were captured. Chips was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, but the awards were rescinded later when the Commander of the Order of the Purple Heart complained that the awards were demeaning to human soldiers. This marked the end of the practice of awarding medals to military dogs.

Tripod, the Disabled Dog Hero

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Tripod the rat terrier with a dysfunctional leg was on her way to living in a shelter last year when she was taken in by John and Mary Smith. The Smiths are both disabled and felt a connection with Tripod. In March, Tripod was sleeping in their bedroom when a fire broke out.
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With their blankets already on fire, Tripod urged the couple to hurry. But Mary was overwhelmed with the task of getting herself mobile, plus her husband into his wheelchair. She was ready to give up hope up "“ accepting their fate; however, Tripod had other plans.

"Tripod kept pulling on my gown getting me out and I said, "˜honey, please go on, go on,' and she wouldn't do it," said the elderly woman. "She stayed right with me the entire time."

The Smiths escaped the fire without injury, and Tripod was treated to pedicure and massage from a local dog groomer as a reward for her heroism.

Penny, the Retriever who Retrieved

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Brenda Owen was walking her labrador retriever Penny by the Elwy River in St. Asaph, Wales about a month ago when she spotted a wheelchair on the shore and a body in the water. She shouted, "Fetch!" and Penny did. She jumped into the water and dragged the woman back to the riverbank, where a man helped her. The victim was injured and unconscious, and was taken to a hospital. She had been reported missing from a nearby home.
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This is by no means an all-inclusive list, as dogs makes headlines for heroism at an astounding rate. I excluded the most famous dogs to bring you stories that aren't as well known. If you liked this story, you might also enjoy Five Famous Felines, 6 Assorted Animal Adventures, or Animals that Only Bite Tourists.

See also: 6 Utterly Loyal Dogs and 6 Awesome Dogs with 6 Awesome Stories

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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