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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
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technology
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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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