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10 Stories of Lifesaving Dogs

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He's unbelievable! He's some dog! He's a lifesaver! That's what l'll call him, too! Ol' Lifesaver! That will be your name! -Navin R. Johnson in The Jerk

Dogs are wonderful. They are goofy and fun and smart and dedicated. Most of the time, they are just fun to be around, but when the situation calls for it, some dogs go above and beyond the call of duty. Out of many, many heroic dog tales, here are ten dogs who recently saved someone's life. That's a good dog.

1. Naida the Siberian Lifeguard

Four-year-old Andrei Pavlov was feeding ducks near his home in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, when he fell through the ice into the freezing water of a pond. A stray dog named Naida immediately began barking frantically. Naida had followed Andrei around that day, which Andrei's mother says shows the dog had a premonition of trouble. A woman who feeds the stray dogs of the Siberian city responded to Naida's barking and followed the dog back to the pond. Nearby workers helped her pull the boy out of the freezing water. Andrei spent a few days in the hospital recovering. Naida was adopted by a family that lives 500 km away. The canine adoption was arranged before the near-drowning incident, and the new owners are particularly proud of Naida's heroism.

2. Treo the Bomb-sniffer

Treo is a retired member of the British military, and a decorated war hero. The black Labrador was a member of the 104 Military Working Dog Support Unit and served in Afghanistan. There, the trained sniffer twice found hidden bombs in Helmand province in 2008. Treo was awarded the Dickin Medal, the highest military honor for an animal in Britain, in 2010. Sgt. Dave Heyhoe was Treo's handler in the military, and the two served together in Northern Ireland before being shipped to Afghanistan. When both completed their military service, Treo went home to live with Heyhoe, who said Treo's action saved the lives of many soldiers.

3. Max the Canine Shield

Osmar Persisco of Garibaldi, Brazil, took his dog Max out for exercise in a field and was approached by two robbers who demanded his car keys. When Persisco declined, they shot him, grazing the man's head. That's when Max went into action, jumping up to attack the two men. One ran away immediately, the other shot Max twice in the chest and once in the leg before fleeing himself. Persisco rushed his protector to the vet, where Max was successfully treated for his injuries.

4. Bandit the Smoke Alarm

The DeStefani family of Mays Landing, New Jersey, owe their lives to a small Pomeranian-poodle mix that wasn't even their dog! They were watching Bandit while her owner, Marta DeGennaro, was out of town. Rich DeStefani had put a hairbrush into boiling water to sterilize it, then forgot the pot on the stove when the family went to bed for the night. By 3:30AM, the water was gone and the burning plastic filled the house with toxic smoke. Newly-purchased smoke detectors did not go off. But Bandit jumped up on Jennifer DeStefani as she slept until she awoke and alerted her husband and 9-year-old daughter. One smoke detector finally sounded an alarm- after the fire department arrived! The fire was limited to the stove, but the home sustained serious smoke damage. And Bandit was hailed as a hero.

5. Target the War Hero

Georgia National Guardsman Chris Duke credits three stray dogs he befriended in Afghanistan with saving his life -and the lives of his entire unit. The dogs, Sasha, Rufus, and Target, raised an alarm as a suicide bomber approached their barracks. The dogs attacked and bit the bomber, who blew himself up before gaining entrance. Sasha was so wounded she had to be put down. The other two recovered from their injuries. When Duke returned to the US, he told the story of the dogs left behind, which led to a fund-raising effort that successfully brought Rufus and Target to the United States. Rufus went to live with Chris Duke, and Target went to the home of Sgt. Terry Young, another survivor of the incident, in Arizona.

Target was not used to being confined. In November of 2010, she escaped from her yard. Someone reported the loose dog, and Target was picked up by animal control. Sgt. Young checked the shelter's website and found the dog, and paid the fine online on a Friday. On Monday, he went to retrieve Target and discovered she had been euthanized by mistake. Target is memorialized at her Facebook page.

6. Buddy the GPS Dog

Ben Heinrichs of Caswell Lakes, Alaska, suffered burns on his face and hand when a spark from a heater ignited gasoline in his car repair shop. Heinrichs ran out and rolled in the snow to extinguish the flames, then went back to make sure his dog Buddy escaped from the burning garage. He told the German shepherd to go get help, and Buddy took off. Heinrichs said the dog had no special training, but just knew what needed to be done. Emergency services received a call about the fire, but responding State Trooper Terrence Shanigan couldn't find the garage because his GPS system wasn't working properly. But he saw a frantic dog and followed him on a hunch.

A video shot by the trooper's dashboard camera shows Buddy trotting along the side of the road coming toward the officer, then looking at the vehicle and breaking into a run as Shanigan follows. The dog runs ahead of the patrol vehicle and takes a left turn, ending up at the burning structure.

The workshop was destroyed, but firefighters saved Heinrichs' nearby home. For his actions, Buddy was honored at a hero's ceremony from the Alaska State Police.

7. Kiko the Biter

You wouldn't think that the act of biting off a man's toe would be a lifesaving act, but that's exactly what happened to Jerry Douthett of Rockford, Michigan. Douthett had been nursing trouble with a toe for months, but hadn't sought medical attention. The toe became infected, and Douthett's wife insisted he have it checked. Douthett agreed, but decided to bolster his courage first with several beers and two giant margaritas. His wife took him home where he passed out in bed. That's when his terrier, Kiko, took matters into his own hands. Or mouth, as it were. Kiko chewed most of Douthett's infected toe off as he slept. When he awoke to find his toe gone, he could no longer put off a trip to the hospital. There, doctors found Douthett's blood sugar to be a dangerously high 560 -when it should be below 120. They also amputated what was left of his toe, since the infection went down to the bone. Douthett's undiagnosed diabetes probably caused him to not feel his toe being chewed off. He considered putting Kiko down for his actions, but after considering that the dog inadvertently saved his life, Douthett decided against euthanization. Meanwhile, Douthett is receiving treatment for diabetes, and has sworn off alcohol. But he now wears shoes to bed, just in case.

8. Hero the Fire Alarm

Wendy Rankin of Brackenridge, Pennsylvania has a dog named Hero. After Hero was injured in a traffic accident, Rankin had to make a choice of whether to put her down. The family decided to do what they could to save their dog, which gave Hero an opportunity to live up to her name a few months later. In February, Hero started barking at 3AM, which is very unusual for her. The family woke to find their home on fire! Everyone escaped, but the home was destroyed. The Rankin family credits their survival to Hero.

9. Angel the Cougar Fighter

Eleven-year-old Austin Forman of Boston Bar, British Columbia, was saved from a wild cougar by his golden retriever Angel. Austin noticed the dog acting differently on that day, sticking close to him as if she knew of some hidden danger -which was only apparent to humans after the attack. He was gathering firewood in his family's backyard when a cougar charged. Angel leapt into action, fighting the cougar while Austin ran into the house. Austin's mother Sherri Forman called 911 as the battle between cat and dog raged under the backyard deck. A constable in the neighborhood responded quickly and killed the cougar. Angel suffered some deep bites and scratches and was taken to the Sardis Animal Hospital. As she recovered, Austin bought her a big steak for her bravery.

10. Yogi the Valor Dog of the Year

The Humane Society of the United States named Yogi, a golden retriever, the 2011 Valor Dog of the Year for saving his owner's life after a bicycle accident. Paul Horton of Austin, Texas, went over the handlebars on his mountain bike and landed on his head. When he regained consciousness, Yogi was by his side. Horton whispered for Yogi to get help. The dog, reluctant to leave, finally went to the main road and barked at neighbors who were walking by. Bruce and Maggie Tate know Yogi and had never seen him act so frantic, so they followed him back to the place where Horton lay immobile. Doctors found that Horton's vertebrae had pinched his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down. They credit Yogi with saving Horton's life. Horton has since regained some sensation, and has limited use of his arms. And Yogi is still his best friend.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]