Original image

The Quick 10: 10 Honored Animals

Original image

It's no secret that I'm a little obsessed with our three dachshunds. They're so dang cute and quirky I just can't help myself. Be that as it may, I can't say that any of them deserve to be knighted anytime soon"¦ protecting the household from a leaf blowing across the yard? Stopping enemy postmen from leaving the porch domain and entering the house? Fastest consumption of food? Yeah, I'm not seeing any of those categories qualifying for a Purple Heart. But some animals have been promoted into ranks usually reserved for humans "“ here are 10 of them.

1. Nils Olav. He was already a king penguin, but Norway's King Harald V. Loudon made Mr. Olav a knight as well. He had been the King's Guard mascot since 1972 (technically, the penguin recently knighted was Nils Olav III "“ they keep replacing him when he dies, like Lassie or Shamu) and already had lots of honors under his belt, including promotions to honorable regimental sergeant major and honorary colonel-in-chief. But in 2008, the King saw fit to dub him Sir Nils Olav for his years of service and dedication to the country.
2. Incitatus, Caligula's horse. And I think we pamper our pets. Legend has it that Incitatus had a stable made of marble and had a collar festooned with precious gemstones. Incitatus had 18 servants and enjoyed oats with gold flake mixed in. Preposterous? Maybe. But according to some sources, Caligula actually made Incitatus a consul of Rome shortly before his death, an action that was reversed practically before Caligula's body was cold. Other sources say that there was merely an attempt to make the horse a consul.

3. Guinefort is the only canine to ever be sainted, even if he was done so by the public instead of the Church. Guinefort, a greyhound, belonged to a French knight. The story goes that the knight walked into his son's nursery one evening and couldn't find the infant "“ however, he did find Guinefort with blood smeared all over his face and believed that the greyhound had mistaken his son for a snack. He drew his sword and killed the dog. Then his son started crying; he found him under an overturned cot with a dead snake. Guinefort had saved the baby from certain death and was rewarded with his own demise. The knight and his family immediately erected a shrine to the misunderstood dog and after "miracles" started happening at the shrine, locals declared Guinefort the patron saint for the protection of infants. The Catholic Church hated this and spent hundreds of years trying to get people to stop calling the dog "Saint." The trend persisted until the 1930s and then seemed to die out; you don't hear much about Saint Guinefort these days.

4. Teka. Can a dog give CPR? Jim Touzeau will tell you they can. Touzeau suffered a massive heart attack in his Queensland, Australia, home in 2007 and was motionless on the ground when his Australian cattle dog stepped in to save the day. He climbed on to his owner's chest and jumped on him with his full weight, barking all the while. Medical experts don't know that the "jumping" actually restarted Touzeau's heart, but the activity and the noise did revive him enough to get help. "She must have been thinking, "˜I better wake this fella up or I won't get dinner,' Touzeau said. Teka was later awarded the RSPCA's (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Purple Cross "“ the highest award it can give.

5. Treo. Just earlier this year, it was announced that Treo, a black Lab, will be given the canine equivalent of the Victoria Cross, the Dickin Medal, for his service to British soldiers. Since 2005, Treo has been sniffing out landmines and bombs hidden by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Both Prince Charles and Gordon Brown have met Treo and commended him on a job well done.
6. William of Orange. William of Orange won a Dickin Medal for his services during WWII, but he wasn't sniffing out bombs "“ William was a messenger pigeon that managed to get a message back to his home base during the Battle of Arnhem, a battle fraught with communication problems. The message William carried is said to have saved the lives of more than 2,000 British soldiers.

7. Taffy IV. Surprisingly, goats have been in the British military since 1775. Apparently a wild goat wandered onto the battlefield during the Revolutionary War and ended up being adopted by the soldiers. Taffy saw "active service" in WWI in the Retreat from Mons, the First Battle of Ypres, and the Battles of Festubert and Givenchy before his death in 1915. As a result of his battles, Taffy IV may be the most decorated goat in history "“ he received the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
8. Endal. When Endal's disabled owner was hit by a car in 2001, the golden retriever immediately pulled his master into a recovery position and covered him with a blanket. As if that weren't impressive enough, Endal then found his owner's cell phone. No, he didn't call the police, but he did jam the phone into his master's face until the man regained consciousness and could call for help. Endal received a PSDA Gold Medal for his hard work, which is the equivalent of the George Cross (which is the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross).

9. Wojtek. OK, it doesn't appear that Wojtek actually received any military honors, but his story is too good to leave out. The Syrian Brown Bear cub was adopted by members of the Polish II Corps during WWII. He famously helped move incredibly heavy boxes of ammunition as if they were nothing. Members of the 22nd Artillery Supply Company eventually began to see him as one of their own and he earned the nickname "Soldier Bear." When the 22nd Artillery Supply Company was demobilized, Wojtek retired happily to the Edinburgh Zoo and lived there until his death in 1963.
10. Lex. Lex is the first-ever military dog to receive early retirement to go live with the family of his handler, who was killed in action in Iraq in March 2007. Marine Cpl. Dustin J. Lee was killed in a rocket attack; Lex was also severely injured by the shrapnel. He was allowed to go home to Cpl. Lee's family in December 2007 and was awarded an honorary Purple Heart for wounds sustained in combat.

OK, so my dogs haven't been awarded a Purple Heart"¦ I think I'm going to go give them some extra cuddles anyway. Have a good weekend, _flossers, and if you have any heartwarming animal stories for us, be sure to comment below.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
Original image

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]