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8 Obscure but Adorable Wildcat Species

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We all know the big cats: lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, and cougar. You are probably also familiar with some smaller wildcats such as the lynx, ocelot, and bobcat. These cats have other cousins that roam the wilds, but we don't get a look at them as often as the bigger, more famous species.

1. Andean Mountain Cat

The Andean Mountain Cat (Leopardus jacobita) is rarely seen, as its habitat is restricted to the mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile at altitudes above the tree line. The total estimated population is only about 2500. This cat grows to only about two feet in length, barely larger than a house cat, with a long bushy tail that may provide a useful counterweight for maneuvering around mountains. There are none in captivity. Andean Mountain Cat image by Jim Sanderson via Wikipedia.

2. Pallas's Cat

The Pallas's Cat (Otocolobus manul) is also called Manul. It is only about the size of a domestic cat, but appears heavier because of its dense fur. The Pallas's Cat differs from other cats in that it has round pupils instead of slits and fewer teeth, giving it a relatively flat-faced appearance. The Manul ranges from eastern Europe to Siberia, roaming the higher elevations of the Middle East and Asia. It is thought to be the oldest cat species, evolving about 12 million years ago. Although the Manul are rare, you may be familiar with this cat because of a popular photograph of a poster. You can see many more images at The Pallas' Cat Project, including pictures of cubs. Pallas's cat image by Flickr user Winkelbohrer.

3. Margay

The Margay (Leopardus wiedii) resembles an ocelot, but is as small as a domestic house cat. The Margay also has relatively longer legs than an ocelot and is an excellent tree climber. Its territory stretches from Mexico down through Brazil. This near-threatened species is rarely seen, as it hunts only at night and stay hidden in the rain forest. Margay image by Flickr user mottazoo.

4. Fishing Cat

The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) is native to south and southeast Asia, where it prefers to live near water -the better to find fish, of course! It is the premiere swimmer of the cat family. The Fishing Cat is listed as endangered because its habitat is being destroyed as wetlands are drained for human use, and because it is still hunted in some countries. One Fishing Cat has become an internet meme, as there were many pictures of its apartment life with a Russian couple and a house cat distributed a few years ago. Fishing Cat image by Flickr user cliff1066â„¢.

5. Serval

The Serval (Leptailurus serval) is a three to four foot long African wild cat that is believed to be the ancient ancestor of both the lion and the cheetah. It inhabits the same territory, the African savanna. Servals have small heads and long legs, efficient for chasing prey through the grass. They are also highly intelligent. Servals are the wild cat most often kept as house pets. The large domestic breed Savannah is a cross between a Serval and a domestic cat. Serval image by Flickr user Picture Taker 2.

6. Caracal

The Caracal (Caracal caracal) has a distinctly North American appearance, as if a cougar had interbred with a lynx. It is related to neither, and lives in Africa and Asia. This tall slim cat grows to about three feet in length. The Caracal prefers mountain or desert areas, and can survive without water longer than other cats. Although rarely seen, Caracals are abundant in the wild, and are sometimes kept as pets. Caracal image by Flickr user kibuyu.

7. African Golden Cat

The African Golden Cat (Profelis aurata) is not always golden. In fact, its colors vary widely between individuals, ranging from gold to reddish to gray with distinctive darker markings on some cats and a lighter chest and abdomen. It may also change colors over its life cycle. The Golden Cat is native to the rain forests of equatorial Africa. This rarely-seen cat grows to 30-32 inches long and weighs up to 40 pounds. The Golden Cat is classified as near-threatened.

8. Sand Cat

The Sand Cat (Felis margarita) lives in the deserts of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and western Asia. It is about the size of a domestic cat, with thicker and longer fur. Sand Cats have wide heads and fur growing between the toes, a feature often found in Arctic cats. This serves the same purpose as insulation for the paws against the environment, but keeps the Sand Cat's feet protected from hot surfaces instead of snow. This cat is listed as threatened, with hunting prohibited in many countries. Sand Cat image by Flickr user Nick Lawes.
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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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