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Nyan Cat: Covering the Web in Cute

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Like most memes, you've either seen it everywhere you go on the internet, or you are totally unaware of it -until now. Nyan Cat (also called Pop Tart Cat) is an 8-bit animation produced by the artist at LOL-COMICS who goes by the name prguitarman. The cat was published on April 2, 2011 and became an instant hit. The original image is accompanied by an endless loop of music, and in fact has a timer included. I have opted to use a video for illustration here, so you can start and stop it as you please. The first video version is closing on ten million views now, so you can imagine how many people have visited the Nyan Cat page -and the many spinoffs and tributes.

Introducing Nyan Cat with just a static image would not do, as the music is an integral part of the meme. Once you have the song in your head, then you will hear it any time you encounter the Pop Tart Cat image. The song is "Nyanyanyanyanyanyanya!", a tune made with the Vocaloid synthesizer that became popular in Japan for creating songs by fictional characters. This song is attributed to Momone Momo, a housekeeping robot with pink hair. What's important to know is that "nyan" is the sound a Japanese cat makes. The English equivalent is "meow." If you want to play the song yourself, sheet music for the piano version is available for download.

Why did Nyan Cat go viral so quickly? Because it has so many tried-and-true viral hit components in one place, yet they are combined into something new. We all know how popular cats are. Rainbows are nice and colorful. Pop Tarts are not only sweet, they are the comfort food of childhood for much of the internet generation. Pop Tarts are also hand-sized and ready to eat out of the box, and thus serves as sustenance for computer geeks, ranking somewhat below Cheetos, but consumed by the ton anyway. Retro 8-bit animations are also a bit of nostalgia for '80s kids, as they recall both classic video games and Geocities websites. Then there's that song... addicting to many and endlessly annoying to some. The tune is catchy, but for goodness sakes, it's a synthesizer singing "meow" as fast as possible into infinity. Or three minutes and 49 seconds, whichever comes first. Put all these components together in the cutest way possible, and you can't go wrong.

Precursors and Relatives

The cat+food components that make Nyan Cat what it is are tried and true. Nyan Nyan Nyancos are Japanese cat characters that are also other objects, most often food items. The San-X company has produced such characters for decades for toys, cartoons, and other products.

You might recall the drawing called Catbread or Kittyloaf (Nekopan in Japanese), which is etched on our minds from the 2004 YTMND loop called Cuppycake Gumdrop.

There's also the image of Cakedogg and Presentvat created by Paul Robertson in early 2009 that combines cute animals, food, and rainbows.
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The Japanese meme of dancing anime models doing cat imitations has been around for a few years now. However, this meme was kicked up a notch when daniwellP produced just such an animation last summer (shown here) using the Nyan song. It led to a flurry of similar projects using the song (with or without the vocal) in the fall of 2010.

Remixes and Parodies

Search at YouTube for "nyan cat" and you'll get over 5,000 videos returned. Add the word "remix" and you'll still get hundreds. One that particularly stands out is the nyan song dubbed over the video for Slipknot's song "Psychosocial." The comments under the original video indicate the popularity of the overdub. The dubstep version is a strange marriage of European and Japanese music trends. Pictured is TACNAYN, Nyan Cat's evil twin.

Games

The little cat was immediately designed into video games. I found five in just a few minutes! Your cat can can jump and shoot, avoid asteroids. shoot dogs, eat candy (show here), or eat candy and avoid vegetables. Now you can order a free iPhone game as well.

Products

Of course, the first thing you do with a viral image is put it on a t-shirt. But that was only the beginning. Hey Chickadee has Nyan Cat jewelry: earrings, necklaces, and phone charms featuring the cat with the rainbow.

You can get a 3D statue of Nyan Cat in full color sandstone from Shapeways.

DeviantART member MasterPlanner made a rainbow scarf, complete with a detachable Pop Tart Cat! You can buy one for $75 plus shipping.

Fan Art

Artists all over paid tribute to the idea of Nyan Cat, like this unicorn painting from KillerKun.

Many other renditions have been submitted to Nyan Cat's Facebook page, including a TRON version.

And a plush cat from DeviantART member Lonepichu. See more here. How long will the Nyan Cat meme last? Even if it dies out tomorrow, it will be remembered as a classic.

See our articles on other memes: The LOLcat of Death, You’ll Like This Alot, 6 Founding Members of the Internet Zoo, and All Hail the Fail Whale!

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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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iStock
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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