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Public Transportation is for the Birds (and Dogs and Goats)

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We've all heard of snakes on a plane, but what about cats on a bus? Or dogs on a subway? Here are the stories of some crafty members of the animal kingdom who have found that public transportation is the only way to travel.

New Kid On the Bus

Just like Mary, who had a little lamb that followed her to school each day, Jordan Lamp of Ohio had her own four-legged tag-along, Nanny, a goat that repeatedly jumped on the school bus with her in 2008. The new "kid" in school was always quickly dismissed, despite protests from the rest of the students on the bus, but she became quite famous nonetheless. Thankfully, the school took the minor disruption in stride, offering to sign Nanny up during the Spring open enrollment period. However, as Superintendent Chuck Swindler pointed out, the arrangement probably wouldn't work in the long run: "The big problem he has is he tends to eat his homework..."

Where Everybody Knows Ratty's Name

As the Cheers theme song put it, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name. And for Ratty the Jack Russel Terrier, that place was the Black Bull Pub in Dunnington, UK. At least twice a week, Ratty would hop on the No. 10 bus across the street from his house and take it five miles to the pub, where he had his own water bowl and was fed his favorite sausages. However, like so many barflies, Ratty could never seem to find his way back home. A friendly barmaid would usually give him a ride at the end of the night, or the pub's owner would simply call Ratty's owner to come get him. This went on for years, until 2006 when the Black Bull was sold and the new owners banned the dog from the pub.

But it wasn't long before the terrier found another pub to call home—the nearby Rose and Crown, where the owner said he was always welcome. Sadly, this April, 10 year old Ratty was struck down and killed while crossing the street to board the No. 10 bus for his regular trip to the pub.

A Different Kind of Passenger Pigeon

We all know the old joke, "I just flew in and, boy, are my arms tired." The pigeon comedians of London can't really use that joke, though, since many of them use the Underground subway system to save themselves some flapping. The birds, especially on the Northern and Piccadilly lines, will walk into the car at one station, ride it to the next, and then get off. The birds will even stand and wait patiently for the doors, indicating they know which side of the car will open for their stop.

But the Brit birds aren't the only ones who ride the rails. In New York City, pigeons have been seen on the A line for years. The train car stops for cleaning at the Far Rockaway station and the birds take the opportunity to get on board and scrounge for crumbs. As the train returns to service, it takes the birds with it, and the pigeons have simply learned to get off when the doors open again at the next station. Some employees say the birds will fly back to the Far Rockaway station so they can get back on when the train returns.

There's no question the YouTube sensation known as Henry, a pigeon on the Toronto Transit Commission subway, commutes like an old pro. As he waits for his stop, he patiently stays near the center pole. But he begins to pace around once the overhead voice indicates the train is arriving at Runnymede Station. And, as if he's done it a thousand times before, he simply walks right through the doors just before they close behind him. Obviously he's a native.

Percy Peruses the Penguins

If you were a cat, where would you take the train? To the aquarium, of course. That's exactly what Percy, a cat in Scarborough, UK, does when he hops the North Bay Railway and travels from his home to the nearby Sea Life Centre. There, Percy sits in front of the large tanks, watching the colorful fish swim by. And once he's done with the fish, he'll go watch the penguins until his presence makes them nervous and an employee has to shoo him away. After Percy's had his fill of marine life, he somehow knows when his train is coming, and heads back to the station to catch a ride home. The park and railway employees say he's one of the best-behaved visitors they have. [Image credit: Purr-n-Fur.]

Casper the Commuter Cat

Susan Finden was boarding the No. 3 bus across the street from her house in Plymouth, UK, when her cat Casper followed her on. She tried to shoo him off, but the driver informed her that Casper was a regular rider. According to the driver, Casper would consistently "queue up in line good as gold "“ it'd be 'person, person, person, cat, person'" for the normal 10:55am departure. Once on board, the cat took his favorite seat in the back, curled up, and slept through the 11-mile, hour-long journey. After the bus returned, Casper would simply get off, or, if he was still asleep, the driver would nudge him awake to remind him it was his stop. This wasn't a fluke thing, either "“ Casper had ridden the bus every day for going on four years, traveling an estimated 20,000 miles. Unfortunately, Casper's bus-riding days were numbered. In January 2010, Casper was hit by a vehicle while crossing the street for his daily commute.

Moscow's Metro Mutts

There are approximately 35,000 stray dogs living in and around Moscow today; about 500 of them live in subway stations where there's plenty of food and no dangerous vehicular traffic like on the street above. Of these 500, a few have developed a very special skill "“ riding the subway. The dogs generally take the train from the suburbs to the city center, where the best food can be scrounged and begged for. According to Andrei Neuronov, an animal behaviorist, the dogs have figured out how to ride the subway by using their keen instincts. They have memorized the different smells of the stations and can recognize the station names as they're called out over the loudspeaker. They even use their own internal clocks to know approximately when the train they want is coming, as well as when to get off when they return home that night.

While other cities might find the dogs a nuisance, many Muscovites show great admiration for their subway strays. For example, after the brutal stabbing of a well-liked subway dog nicknamed Malchik in 2001, money donated by Muscovites helped erect a bronze statue of the dog inside the station he once called home. Even today, it's not unusual to see flowers left there for the beloved canine.

Hachikō of Shibuya Station

Hachikō, a rare breed of Akita, never got on the train at Shibuya Station in Japan, but his owner, Hidesaburō Ueno, boarded to go to the University of Tokyo where he was a professor. Every day, the dog walked with his master to the station and would be there again when Ueno got off the train that evening. This went on for a little over a year before a cerebral hemorrhage killed Ueno while he was at work. Although Ueno never came home again, Hachikō waited for him. Even after Hachikō had been taken in by new owners, the dog still came to the station every day for the next nine years to wait for his beloved master's return. As employees and commuters began to take note of Hachikō's vigil, his story spread and he became something of a role model to the people of Japan, admired for his loyalty.

On March 8, 1935, Hachikō was found dead in the streets of Shibuya. As an honor, his body was mounted and put on display at the National Science Museum of Japan in Tokyo. Additionally, a large, bronze statue was erected at Shibuya Station, where an annual ceremony is held on April 8 to commemorate this incredibly faithful dog. In 2009, his story was the subject of a Richard Gere movie, Hachi: A Dog's Tale.

So, a Monkey and a Bulldog Walk Onto a Train...

Still not impressed by these mass transit animals? Check out Pan-Kun, a chimpanzee, and his buddy, a bulldog named James, as they not only ride a train in Japan, but even figure out how to buy the ticket, with very little human assistance. It's all part of a TV show where Pan-Kun and James are given human tasks to accomplish and, more often than not, pass these tests with flying colors.

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Ever ridden the bus with a goat? Or the subway with a pigeon? How about an airplane next to one of those yappy-type dogs? Tell us all about your wildest animal travel experiences in the comments below.




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