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6 Utterly Loyal Dogs

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Faithful, loyal, devoted, steadfast—that's a good dog. It's part of what they are. Here are six who give a new meaning to the word loyalty.

1. Hachiko

In the article 7 Heroic Dogs, we met Hachiko, an Akita who waited for his master every day for ten years, even though the man died at work. Hachiko is honored as a paragon of loyalty, but he is not the only dog who became known for extreme faithfulness to his master.

2. Ruswarp

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Graham Nuttall and his border collie Ruswarp were an inseparable pair. Ruswarp was 14 years old when he and Nuttall went on a hike in the Welsh Mountains in January of 1990. They did not return as scheduled. 11 weeks later, another hiker found Nuttall's body, and a cold and starving Ruswarp standing guard. The dog had to be carried off the mountain, and was cared for by a vet paid by the RSPCA. Ruswarp survived long enough to attend Nuttall's funeral. Graham Nuttall was an activist involved with saving the scenic British railway line from Settle to Carlisle. The Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL) raised money for a memorial to Ruswarp. A bronze statue of the dog will be installed at the Garsdale Station in North Yorkshire in early 2009.

3. Dorado

290dorado.jpg Omar Eduardo Rivera worked on the 71st floor of the World Trade Center until September 11, 2001. On that day, Rivera, who is blind, was at his job as a computer technician with his dog Dorado under his desk. When two hijacked planes hit the towers, Rivera knew it would take him a long time to evacuate the building.
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"I thought I was lost forever—the noise and the heat were terrifying—but I had to give Dorado the chance of escape.  So I unclipped his lead, ruffled his head, gave him a nudge and ordered Dorado to go."
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The dog was swept downstairs by the crowd of people. A few minutes later, Rivera felt the dog nuzzling his legs. He had come back up the staircase! Dorado and a co-worker helped Rivera climb down 70 flights, a trip that took an hour. Shortly after they emerged at ground level, the building collapsed. Rivera declared he owes his life to his companion and best friend, Dorado.

4. Cash

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25-year-old Jake Baysinger was reported missing in Colorado on June 28, 2008. His body was found six weeks later in the Pawnee National Grassland by a rancher who was checking out a strange dog. The dog was Baysinger's German shepherd Cash. Cash kept running between Baysinger's body and his pickup truck, giving the rancher the idea that the dog was eager to show someone what had happened. Baysinger's death was ruled a suicide, and Cash was reunited with Baysinger's wife and young son. Investigators believe Cash survived by eating small animals and kept coyotes away from his master's body. Cash was later honored with a gift basket of treats from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Image credit: Sara Loven/Greeley Tribune.

5. Greyfriars Bobby

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Greyfriars Bobby became famous as a symbol of loyalty in Britain. He was a Skye terrier devoted to his owner, John Gray. When Gray died in 1858, he was buried without a gravestone. Still, Bobby found the spot and stayed there, guarding the grave and leaving only for food, for 14 years. Greyfriars Bobby himself died in 1872. A granite fountain was erected in 1873 to honor his loyalty, commissioned by a countess and paid for by the RSPCA. John Gray eventually got a headstone, paid for by Bobby's fans. And Bobby received a headstone for his grave in 1981.

6. The Frontier Sheepdog

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In the 1870s, a sheep rancher in New Mexico died alone in his remote home. Two years later, his death was discovered by visitors. Yet his flock of sheep were doing just fine, and had actually increased in number! The rancher's dog had taken responsibility for the sheep, and had taken them out to pasture daily as he had always done, then herded them back home at night. In 1879, the New Mexico legislature voted to award a pension to the hard-working (but nameless) sheep dog. There are no pictures of this dog. The photo illustration is from Flickr user ingirogiro.

If you have a story about a dog's loyalty, we'd love to hear it!

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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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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