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Our Adorable Relatives: 9 Tiny Primates

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The biological order of primates includes humans, apes, and monkeys. It also includes prosimians, which are smaller, more primitive animals that we recognize as cute enough to be our relatives.

1. Potto

The potto (Perodicticus potto) is only found in the tropical forests of equatorial Africa. They live in trees and eat ants and other insects. The potto is distinguished from the loris by its neck bones, which form a sort of shield over its back. These nocturnal animals have a brush of cartilage under their tongues, which they use to clean their teeth.

2. Galago

Primates of the family Galagidae are called bush babies or galagos. Bush babies, native to sub-Saharan Africa, will eat anything from tree sap to snakes. They can turn their heads 180 degrees, completely to their backs! The name bush baby comes from the cry of the galago which sounds like a human baby. They are so cute that some people keep them as pets, which is not recommended as they are nocturnal animals and need a large territory. Image by Flickr user Joachim S. Müller.

3. Lemurs

The many species of lemurs consist of several families of primates native to Madagascar. The ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) is the species we are most familiar with, as it is one of the few prosimian species that is active during daylight hours, and because they will readily reproduce in zoos. However, the species is classified as vulnerable due to habitat destruction. Sifaka lemurs (Propithecus candidus) gave us the term "leapin' lemurs", as you can see in this video. Image by Flickr user Adrian Stewart (Chortler).

"They're gentle, well mannered, and pretty and yet great fun . . . I should have married one." -John Cleese

4. Slender Loris

The gray slender loris (Loris lydekkerianus) and the red slender loris (Loris tardigradus) are two of several species of slender loris found in tropical Asia, particularly in India and Sri Lanka. They eat mostly insects, but will also eat leaves, eggs, and slugs. Slender lorises have traditionally been considered to have magic or medicinal powers, which has contributed to their decline. Although the number of slender lorises is hard to pin down, they are considered endangered.

5. Slow Loris

There are three species of slow loris (Nycticebus) and all are native to south Asia, from India to the Philippines. Slow lorises are carnivores that eat birds, eggs, shellfish, insects, and reptiles. Although slow lorises are unbelievably cute, as many found out by watching this video, they do not make good pets. They exude a toxin from their elbows which they deliver by biting, and are illegal to import in most countries.

6. Aye-aye

You may be familiar with the Aye-aye (Daubentonia Madagascariensis) from pictures that are presented as a "what is it?" It is hard to recognize as a primate, but has opposable thumbs and is a type of lemur. Aye-ayes are found in Madagascar, where they are considered a bad omen by natives and often killed on sight, which contributes to their status as near-threatened. Aye-ayes are omnivores and will steal food from villages, which may have contributed to their reputation. Of course, it may be because of the way they look, which can be hideous or adorable depending on who is looking. Pictured is Kintana, an aye-aye born at the Bristol Zoo Gardens in 2005.

7. Tarsier

Tarsiers (Tarsiidae) were once found in Europe, North America, and Africa according to fossil records, but are now restricted to the islands of Southeast Asia, such as Borneo and the Philippines. It stands out among prosimians for its large eyes, which can each weigh as much as its brain. Tarsiers are nocturnal, live in trees, and eat insects, birds, and reptiles. If an owl were a mammal, it would be a tarsier. All tarsier species are threatened, and two are classified as endangered. Image by Flickr user chaosandcreations.

8. Marmoset

Marmosets (Callitrichidae) are classified as New World monkeys, but are so small I had to include them in this list. There are 25 species of marmosets that average around eight inches long, not including the tail. The pygmy marmoset is the world's smallest monkey at about six inches, with a tail twice as long as its body. Marmosets almost always give birth to fraternal twins, and are the only animal known to display germline chimerism, meaning they can carry the sperm or ovum of their fraternal twin, which has different DNA from their own. Image by Flickr user CzechR.

9. Berthe's Mouse Lemur

With a body only about four inches long, Berthe's Mouse Lemur (Microcebus berthae) is thought to be the world's smallest existing primate. This lemur is found only in Madagascar, and only in a small (900 square km) area south of the Tsiribihina River in Kirindy Mitea National Park. It resembles a mouse except for its forward-facing eyes. It will eat insects, fruit, and small reptiles, but prefers a sweet secretion exuded by a native insect during its larval stage. With an estimated population of only 8,000, efforts are being made to turn Berthe's Mouse Lemur's native habitat into a strict conservation zone.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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