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Lambs that Head-butt Eagles (and other strange animal attacks)

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Sporting toxic saliva and shark-like razor sharp teeth, the Komodo dragon is one fierce predator. But they rarely attack humans. Which is why the recent fatal Komodo dragon attack on a fruit picker is big news. It's also why we've decided to cover a few other attacks by rare animals. Or rare attacks involving animals. Or just weird encounters with animals.

1. Paris Hilton Attacked

Perhaps striking a blow for vanity animals everywhere, Baby Luv, Paris Hilton's illegal pet kinkajou, bit the heiress and "star," resulting in a trip to the emergency room for Paris and expulsion from the Hilton way of life for Baby Luv. A kinkajou is a rainforest mammal that is related to raccoons and looks a bit like the illicit love child of a ferret and a monkey. While they rarely attack humans, Baby Luv evidently made an exception for Paris. It wasn't the first time Baby Luv showed Paris no love: A year before, Baby scratched Paris's face whilst the two were out shopping together.

2. Lamb vs. Eagle

Weird things happen in Scotland, it's true. According to a recently released report on the wildlife of the Outer Hebrides, the island chain off the west coast of Scotland, a lamb was seen head-butting a golden eagle. How exactly a lamb could head-butt an eagle is unclear, but evidently

the lamb spotted the eagle flying low over a rabbit and, in a show of solidarity with its fellow Easter creatures, attacked the eagle.

No word on what happened next or if both made it out of the scrap unscathed.

3. Bambi on a Rampage

When one thinks of aggressive animals, deer, which tend to be frightened by loud noises, do not typically come to mind. But don't be fooled "“ these timid, docile creatures can be vicious, especially when armed with spike-like antlers and sharp hooves. In November of last year, an Annapolis, Maryland man suffered puncture wounds to his groin, chest and leg after an enraged buck attacked him outside his home. He survived and lived to tell a really weird story "“ but in November 2006, a 43-year-old man was killed by a buck he had raised as a pet in Ellenburg, NY.

4. When Nearly Fictional Animals Attack

animals liger.jpgLigers, according to Napoleon Dynamite, may be bred for their skills in magic, but they're still fearsome predators. A 32-year-old animal handler died after he was attacked by Rocky, a 1000-pound lion-tiger hybrid, at an animal sanctuary in Oklahoma on Oct. 30, 2008; the handler had allegedly entered the animal's cage while it was feeding, breaking the a cardinal rule of caring for and interacting with large predators.

5. A Bobcat Walks into a Bar"¦

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but for the patrons of the Chaparral Bar in Cottonwood, Arizona, it was surreal "“ and painful. According to police, the bobcat wandered into the bar on Main Street at around 11 p.m. on March 23, acting aggressively. As the patrons jumped up on barstools and tabletops to escape the big cat, it attacked two men and a woman. Police cornered the cat in the parking lot outside and shot it. In parts of the American Southwest, bobcats have become suburban and rural pests, adapting their behavior to humans with surprising success. Attacks on humans are relatively rare "“ bobcats aren't terribly large creatures and prefer to hunt rabbits, rodents, squirrels and fish. Because of its brazen attack, the bobcat's body was being tested for rabies, police told local news outlets.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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