CLOSE
Original image

8 Mysterious Tales of Traveling Dogs

Original image

Dogs disappear, dogs get lost, dogs are taken, and when we're lucky, dogs go home again. Here are eight stories of "How did that dog get here?"

Saudi Arabia to California

A purebred Saluki was found and taken to a shelter in Carlsbad, California. Shelter officials found an implanted microchip and hoped it would reunite the dog with its owners, but the information on the chip said the dog belonged to the U.S. Military Training Mission in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia! No one seriously thinks the dog made it to California from Saudi Arabia on its own, but how he arrived in the US is a mystery -for now. The San Diego County Animal Services Department hopes that publicity will help find the dog's rightful owner.

The Saluki is an extreme case of a dog out of place, but there are plenty of stories of a dog traveling hundreds of miles one way or another, whether to be reunited with family, or to get away from them -which may be against the dog's will.

70 Miles Through a War Zone

445_nubs

Major Brian Dennis adopted an abused mixed-breed dog in Anbar Province, Iraq. He named the dog Nubs because his ears had been cut off. Dennis nursed Nubs back to health over four months, but then he was ordered to move his squadron 70 miles away. Two days later, Nubs rejoined Dennis! The dog had tracked him down despite subfreezing temperatures and rough terrain. But the major received orders to get rid of the dog within four days or he would be shot. Dennis started an email campaign to save Nubs that raised $3,500 within a couple of days, and battled bureaucratic difficulties to get the dog out of Iraq across the Jordanian border. Nubs was flown to the US the next week, where he was met by friends and a veterinarian in Chicago, then by a dog trainer at his final destination in San Diego. Major Dennis was reunited with Nubs after his tour was up a month later.

Florida to Louisiana

445toboi

A female Jack Russell terrier named ToBoi disappeared from Barbara Apostolo's home in Miramar, Florida. Three years later, she received a call from a shelter in Louisiana. ToBoi had been found, thanks to a microchip with Apostolo's contact information. A friend arranged to fly ToBoi back to Florida, where she was reunited with her owner. In addition to the mystery of how ToBoi got to Louisiana, Apostolo still doesn't know how the dog escaped in the first place.

Florida to Tennessee

445Astro

Dennis and Linda Geary had a chip implanted in their German Shepherd named Astro when they lived in Florida. The dog, obviously unhappy with the procedure, ran off and the Gearys didn't see him again for nine years. This past March, a shelter in Tennessee contacted the Gearys at their present home in Louisville, Kentucky to tell them they had Astro and had retrieved his owners' information from the microchip.

"We had him in Florida and then moved so many times from Florida to New Hampshire to Maine back down to Florida and then here to Kentucky. And somehow he ended up in Tennessee, it's unbelievable," the couple's son, Trevor Geary, said.

"All the way down we were like, 'What if this guy doesn't remember us,'" Dennis Geary said. "We got down there and he remembered the both of us as soon as he came out from behind the walls. He was wagging his tail, tipped his head and was like, 'Where have you been?'"

We'll probably never know where Astro was for nine years, but he is home now.

Five Nautical Miles to Land

445sophie

Jan and Dave Griffith were sailing off the coast of Queensland, Australia with their Australian cattle dog Sophie Tucker when rough seas pitched the dog overboard. As Sophie was a house dog without ocean experience, the Griffiths though she was gone for good. Four months later, Sophie was found on an uninhabited area of remote St. Bees Island. five nautical miles from where she went overboard. She apparently swam through shark-infested waters and survived on the island by eating wild goats. Sophie was suspicious and difficult to handle after her ordeal, but readjusted to her normal house dog life after she was reunited with the Griffiths.

Cornwall to Scotland

445lucy

Sonya and William McKerron of Cornwall, England were distraught when their 17-year-old collie Lucy wandered away from home in February. Four months later, a dog with an implanted microchip was picked up in a garden in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was Lucy, who had ended her journey 550 miles from home!  The shelter manager suspects that Lucy was taken by someone who brought her to Scotland, as she would have no reason to wander off to Scotland. We will probably never know for sure.

Kansas to Montana

445mickey

Cher Jarosz and her daughter Kari Mitchell of Lee's Summit, Missouri had a Boston Terrier named Mickey. In 2003, Mickey disappeared from their fenced-in back yard. As time passed, Jarosz and Mitchell gave up hope of ever seeing Mickey again. In 2007, a woman brought a lost Boston Terrier to a shelter in Billings, Montana. Shelter manager Kara Ward found a microchip on the dog which connected her to a veterinary clinic in Lee's Summit, Missouri -1,100 miles away.

"I called that vet clinic because they were the one that should have a record of that chip," Ward said. "I gave them the chip number, and the woman kind of started screaming.

"She goes, "˜Oh my God, is that a Boston terrier? Oh my God, it belongs to Kari Mitchell. She used to work here."'

Mickey was flown home to be reunited with his family.

77 Miles Through the Desert

445_moon

Doug Dashiell took his three dogs, including a Siberian husky named Moon on a weekend trip. The one-year-old dog broke free from a chain during a rest stop near Railroad Valley, Nevada. Dashiell searched for her for several hours, then went home to Ely, Nevada. He contacted a reservation near the area where Moon disappeared but no one had seen her. Within several days, Dashiell knew there was no hope for Moon. But just over a week after her disappearance, Moon was found on the streets of Ely! The distance from railroad Valley to Eli is 77 miles -more if you don't travel in a straight line- through the Nevada desert. Dashiell was contacted by his regular veterinary office after Moon was turned in. She smelled as if she had encountered a skunk, but the rest of her story is a mystery.

If these dogs could talk, their stories might be worthy of best sellers. As it is, they remain a mystery. One thing is clear: implanting your dog with an identifying microchip can really pay off.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
Original image
iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES