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9 Mysterious Ape-men from Around the World

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Most of us in the US are familiar with the cryptid Sasquatch (or Bigfoot) and its Asian counterpart the Yeti (or Abominable Snowman). Those are far from the only mysterious giant apes or hominids lurking in either deep forests or our imagination. In fact, such rarely-seen animals are reported all over the world. Let's take a look at just a few of their lesser-publicized cousins.

1. Almasty

The Almastys roam the Caucasus mountains of central Asia. Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann collected over 500 accounts of Almasty sightings in many different languages throughout the Caucasus region, with virtually the same description:

"The Almastys are like people; they have arms and legs like people, except that they are covered with hair. The hair is like that of a bear, and dark. I always saw them without clothing . . . they do not know how to speak; they only mumble or bellow. They are not afraid of people, only of dogs. They run very fast."

The picture above is a sketch made right after a 1955 sighting by a member of a Russian geological expedition. An animal of the same description is called Almas in Mongolia.

2. Skunk Ape

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The Skunk Ape appears now and again throughout the American Deep South, from Oklahoma to North Carolina, but most sightings have been reported in Florida. The creature gets its name from its awful odor. In 2000, an anonymous letter accompanied several photographs purporting to show an ape in Myakka City, Florida. The writer of the letter seemed to think this was an escaped orangutan, but no missing ape was reported. Later, an investigation was launched over a horse that was injured by an unknown animal in the same area.

3. Amomongo

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The Amomongo is seen in the Philippines. Police reports record incidents of a man-sized hairy ape attacking villagers and eating animals. The creature is described as five and a half feet tall with very long claws or fingernails.

4. Tjutjuna

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The Tjutjuna or Chuchunaa lives in Siberia and is thought of as more of a Neandertal-like hominid than an ape. They are said to wear animal skins and live in communities. They also raid villages in the night, and even eat human flesh. Tribal stories of the Chuchunaa go way back, but the first expedition to look for them was in 1928. The last possible sighting was in 2002, when an unknown animal was trapped in the Verkhoyansk region. The remains disappeared, under circumstances that varied from witness to witness.

5. Yeren

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China's version of the giant cryptid ape is the Yeren. It lives in the remote Shennongjia mountains of Hubei province, and stands six to nine feet tall. It stands like a man, with extra long arms and large hands and feet. The entire creature is covered with hair. Hundreds of sightings have been reported, and the Chinese government is soliciting more. There is some speculation that Yeren and other large Asian cryptids may be surviving members of the extinct ape species Gigantopithecus, which grew up to nine feet tall. The picture is of a Yeren action figure.

6. Fear liath

200fear_liathFear liath is the name given to a ten-foot-tall humanoid creature that haunts the summit of Ben MacDhui, the second-highest mountain in Scotland. It is also called The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui. The creature causes an uncontrollable feeling of dread or panic among hikers who never see it, but feel its presence. The first recorded sighting was by scientist John Norman Collie in 1890, although he was so frightened he didn't tell anyone of the encounter until 1925. When he did, he found that others had seen the same creature on the same mountain, or at least felt his presence.

7. Hibagon

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Japan has its own cryptid ape called Hibagon. It lives around Mt. Hiba near Hiroshima. Sightings began in 1970, in which the animal was described as five feet tall with long arms and a full coat of hair. Some said it has "intelligent human-like eyes." Sightings were numerous until a photograph was taken in 1974. Only two sightings have been reported since then, in 1980 and 1982.

8. Orang Pendek

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The Orang-pendek has been sighted numerous times on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Described as a four-foot-tall ape-man with red hair, some are sure it's an ape while others believe it to be a primitive human. The recent discovery of remains of Homo floresiensis, popularly called the Hobbit, lead some to think that this small species of primitive man may have survived in the wild. Other cryptids in the area are called Orang-mawa, Orang-gugu, and Orang-utan. Oh wait, that last one is a real ape.

9. Yowie

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The Australian version of the giant cryptid ape is the Yowie. It is described as a bipedal gorilla who lives in wilderness areas (which means most of Australia). The term Yowie is also used for a legendary aboriginal animal which is not an ape, causing some confusion in conversations. You can see a purported Yowie sighting in this video if you don't blink. Yowie hunter Paul Compton took the above photo near Glen Innes in 2007.

Oh yes, there are more cryptid apes from other parts of the world, so take a look at part two of this list, 7 More Mysterious Ape-men.

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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