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9 Dangerous Animals of Australia

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Australians are proud of their wildlife, which is not only the oddest in the world, but also the most dangerous. That's not to say that it's a dangerous country, because most animals do not go out of their way to attack people. You just don't want to take any chances by provoking the native species.

Jellyfish

There are many species of box jellyfish native to Australia, the Philippines, and other tropical areas. Some are not dangerous to humans, but one species, Chironex fleckeri, is the world's most venomous animal. The sting from this particular species can cause death in minutes! If stung by a box jellyfish, apply vinegar before removing the tentacles, or it will inject more venom. That's why Australians take vinegar along when swimming at some beaches during jellyfish season.

Bird

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The Guiness Book of World Records lists the cassowary as the world's most dangerous bird. They live in the tropical areas of New Guinea and northern Australia, where it is an endangered species. Cassowaries are bad tempered birds that can grow to 6 feet tall. They are strong and swift and attack with razor-sharp claws. Although the last cassowary-related death was in 1926, many people have been badly injured by these birds. Image by Paul IJsendoorn.

Shellfish

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Barrier Reef cone shells include 80 species found in Australia. They are pretty shellfish with sharp teeth that can penetrate clothing. Their venom is a neurotoxin that can kill a human, and there is no antivenin. Medical facilities can help a victim breathe until the toxin is cleared from the body.

Octopus

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The world's most venomous octopus is, of course, found in the waters off Australia (as well as Asian seas, as far north as Japan). The blue-ringed octopus is yellow with black and bright blue rings on its surface. It's a tiny creature, about the size of a golf ball, but contains a neurotoxin powerful enough to kill humans. There is no antidote, but victims who reach medical help often recover if breathing is assisted until the venom dissipates. Image by Jens Petersen.

Snake

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The inland taipan, also known as the fierce snake, is the most venomous snake in the world. It is found in the dry regions of central Australia. The taipan's venom is toxic enough to kill 100 humans with the dose found in a single bite. This snake lives on mice and small rodents and is not aggressive towards humans. People have been bitten when a taipan feels threatened. No human deaths have been recorded from the taipan's bite, thanks to treatment with taipan antivenin produced by the Australian Reptile Park. Australia is home to many other species of highly venomous snakes. Image by AllenMcC.

Spider

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There are many different kinds of spiders in Australia. The Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) has a reputation for its nasty venom. These spiders act aggressively when approached. The male spider's venom is five times as toxic as the female's. A bite will lead to muscle spasms, shock, and brain damage, but is easily treated with antivenin. The redback spider is another Australian spider to watch out for. It resembles (and is related to) the black widow spider.

Crocodile

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Since the dinosaurs are gone, the saltwater crocodile is the world's largest reptile. The average croc is about 15 feet long, but they can grow to over 20 feet! Australians call them "salties". Death by crocodile is rare; there are only a couple of fatalities every year in Australia. That's more than enough.

Fish

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Scorpion fish that live near the Australian coasts are the world's most poisonous fish. They have glands containing neurotoxins at the base of their fins, which they use only in defense. Scorpion fish are found in tropical waters all over the world, but are most concentrated in Australia. They are small and approachable, but if you step on one, you'll need to seek immediate medical treatment. They are also edible, and considered to be a delicacy. Image by CW Ye.

Bear

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The drop bear (Phascolarctos carnivorous) is a truly scary animal. A marsupial native to Australia, it is a vicious carnivore that attacks its prey by hiding high in a tree and dropping onto unsuspecting bystanders. Photos of a drop bear show a startling resemblance to a koala, which is how the sneaky beasts fool you into standing under their trees. See the drop bear in action in this video. The most important thing to remember about drop bears is that they only bite tourists.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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