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6 Awesome Dogs with 6 Awesome Stories

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After two previous posts about great dogs, both heroic and loyal, I keep finding more wonderful dog stories to share. Dogs have an amazing ability to do whatever needs to be done, and will still wag their tails afterward.

1. Patsy Ann, the Greeter

Patsy Ann was a bull terrier who greeted incoming ships in Juneau, Alaska. She was profoundly deaf, but could detect a ship up to half a mile away. She raced to the dock for every incoming ship, no matter what distractions she met along the way. Longshoremen relied on Patsy Ann to alert them to arrivals. She even knew which dock the ship would tie to! Patsy was born in 1929 and lived in several homes before she became a neighborhood dog, loved by all but belonging to none. She was named the "Official Greeter of Juneau, Alaska" by the mayor in 1934. Patsy died in 1942 and was buried at sea while a large crowd watched. In 1992, a bronze statue of Patsy Ann was unveiled in Juneau.

2. Faith, the Bipedal Dog

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Faith Stringfellow was born just before Christmas in 2002 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. She only had three legs. Her single front leg was deformed. The leg was amputated after it began to atrophy when Faith was seven months old. Her owners then taught her how to stand on her rear legs, then hop, and finally to walk upright! Faith is now a therapy dog and makes public appearance to encourage others to live to their full potential. See a video of Faith in action at YouTube.

3. Owney, the Postal Dog

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Owney was a stray mutt adopted by the employees of the post office in Albany, New York in 1888. He became attached to the bags of mail and began riding the trains that delivered them- first the local, then statewide and across the nation. In 1895 Owney rode around the world on mail trains and ships! Everywhere he went, postal workers gave him local medals, which he wore on a specially-made vest. The workers considered him good luck, because no train carrying Owner ever wrecked. Owney died in 1897 of a gunshot wound due to an altercation with a journalist in Toledo. His body was preserved and is now on display in the National Postal Museum.

4. Swansea Jack, the Lifeguard

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Swansea Jack was born in 1930 in Swansea, Wales, close to the Tawe River. He was a retriever. What he retrieved were people in danger of drowning in the river -possibly as many as 27 of them in his short life. After his second rescue, his picture was published in the local paper. Swansea Jack was eventually awarded a "Bravest Dog of the Year": award from the newspaper, a silver cup from the mayor of London, and two bronze medals from the Dogs Trust. He was also named "Dog of the Century" in 2000 by the NewFound Friends of Bristol. In 2008, Richard Higlett wrote a musical tribute to Swansea Jack and recorded 30 dogs singing it. Swansea Jack died in 1937 after eating rat poison, and a huge monument was erected over his grave.

5. Balto, the Sled Dog

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Balto was one of 150 dogs who pulled sleds in the 1925 Nome Serum Run, in which a relay of dogsleds delivered vital supplies of diptheria antitoxin to remote Nome. Balto was the lead dog on the final leg of the journey, in which Gunnar Kaasen drove his team past the last scheduled musher and on to Nome. The dog became famous after the relay. He died in 1933. His body was stuffed by a taxidermist and is now on display in Cleveland. A statue of Balto was erected in New York City. And the route the dogsleds took inspired the modern day dogsled race known as the Iditarod.

6. Stubby, the Military Dog

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Stubby wandered into the encampment and was adopted by the 102nd infantry of Massachusetts in 1917. When the infantry shipped out to Europe, Stubby was smuggled onto the ship bound for France. During World War I, Stubby kept watch and alerted the troops to German attacks. He was wounded by a hand grenade once and gassed several times. He once found a German spy and held him by the seat of the pants until American troops could complete the capture! When his master, Corporal J. Robert Conroy was wounded, Stubby accompanied him to the hospital and made rounds to cheer the troops. He was eventually a highly decorated dog, amassing medals for service, campaigns and battles, a Purple Heart, and various veteran's awards. A group of French women made Stubby a chamois blanket decorated with allied flags to display his medals.

Stubby returned home at the end of the war and became quite a celebrity. He was made a lifetime member of the American Legion, the YMCA, and the Red Cross. He lived at the Y and made recruiting tours for the Red Cross. When Stubby passed on in 1926, he was preserved and displayed with his medals at the Smithsonian Institution.

For more inspiring dog stories, see 7 Heroic Dogs and 6 Utterly Loyal Dogs.

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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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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