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6 Founding Members of the Internet Zoo

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Some of the biggest internet sensations have been animals. If the world wide web had a zoo, who would be the founding members? These six, presented in no particular order, would be at the top of the list.

1. Badgers Badgers Badgers

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The flash animation Badgers was created by Jonti Picking of Weebl's Stuff. It was first published in September of 2003. The popularity of Badgers landed Picking a job with MTV Europe, for which he produced the cartoon series Weebl and Bob. There are now a host of badger derivatives for all occasions: zombie badgers, Badgers on a Plane, Big Ass Badgers, soccer badgers, a Harry Potter version, and Baby Badgers, featuring the plush badgers you can buy.

2. Dramatic Prairie Dog

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A 5-second video entitled Dramatic Chipmunk appeared on YouTube in the summer of 2007 and was immediately spread across the web. Further investigation revealed that the animal was actually a prairie dog that had appeared on the Japanese TV show Hello! Morning. The editing and addition of a dramatic crescendo made it "The best 5 second clip on the internet." The original video soon garnered 12 million views (and over 18,000 YouTube comments), and dozens of copies and remixes gained millions more. The popularity of this little guy faded fast as the web was oversaturated rapidly. There's only so much mileage you can get out of a 5-second clip, no matter how funny.

3. Viking Kittens

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Viking Kittens is a flash animation created by Joel Veitch of Rathergood.com in 2002. A pair of kittens sail their longboats and flash their weapons to "The Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin. Viking Kittens disappeared from his site and are mentioned nowhere at all at Rathergood.com now, although you can find them in many other locations. The only reason ever mentioned is that the kittens used too much bandwidth, but there might be a licensing problem with the Led Zeppelin song. In any case, Veitch can't be blamed for wanting to promote songs he wrote himself, of which there are plenty.

4. Hamster Dance

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Deidre LaCarte designed the Hamster Dance in 1998 while an art student in Canada. It was a bid to draw traffic to her website, which, um, worked. The inspiration was her own hamster, Hampton Hamster. The song behind the 9-second loop is "Whistle Stop", performed by Roger Miller in the Disney movie Robin Hood. The web page drew thousands of visitors a day in 1999, which at the time made it the number one destination on the internet. The hamsters elicited giggles for a minute, then annoyance as they were emailed around the world (and still are). Several Hamster Dance songs have been recorded and became minor hits in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Hamster dance spinoffs found their way onto five albums (so far). There are many redesigns and new versions of the Hamster Dance at the official site.

5. Oolong the Pancake Bunny

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Oolong is the name of the rabbit in the picture captioned "I have no idea what you're talking about... so here's a bunny with a pancake on its head." Beginning in 1999, photographer Hironori Akutagawa trained Oolong to balance objects on his head and took pictures, which he posted on his website. He became an internet sensation in 2001 and built a fan base until his death in 2003. He was eight years old. Urban Dictionary defines "pancake bunny" as the patron saint of silence.

6. LOLrus

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The LOLcat universe has permeated the internet deeply with a vast array of funny cats, but the one who rose to the top of the popularity chain is not a cat at all! The LOLrus was a walrus who was charmingly attached to his most precious possession -a bucket. The original picture spawned an entire series of walrus macros, most captioned with something about the missing bucket. The original picture was of Minazo, an elephant seal (not a walrus at all!) who lived at the Enoshima Aquarium in Japan. Minazo died in 2005, but his legacy (and his bucket) lives on.

Who will the next inductees into the internet zoo be? There are quite a few famous animals who might deserve hall-of-fame status: Tubcat, Spaghetti Cat, Mocha the baby hamster, Oscar the death-predicting cat, Faith the bipedal dog, the Cadbury Gorilla, Tyson the skateboarding dog, Sugar Bush Squirrel, and the most popular of the LOLcats. What others would you suggest?

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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