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Unsung Dads of the Animal Kingdom

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There are all types of different “fathers,” from biological dads to adoptive dads to foster dads to father figures. And there are also those unsung patriarchs of the animal kingdom...

Their Mane Man

Frazier was a 20-year-old circus lion from Mexico who had seen better days. Almost toothless, his tongue lolled out of his mouth and his skin hung on his emaciated frame. In 1970 he was donated to Lion Country Safari in California to live out his final days.

To everyone’s surprise, Frazier was “adopted” by a pride of lionesses that until that time had rejected the attention of all the parks’ male lions. Not only did these attentive females bring Frazier his food and prop him up to walk (one lioness on each side of him), they tended to his other lionly needs. Frazier sired 30 cubs during his first year at the reserve, and continued to be just as prolific the rest of his life. He passed away in 1972 due to natural causes (if you count “exhaustion” among those causes).

Proud of the Pregnancy “Pooch”

In the underwater world of the seahorse, it’s the male that gets to carry the eggs and birth the babies. And – get this - he actually competes with other males for the honor!

They stage contests of brute strength (well, as strong as an inch-long creature can be) and engage in exhibitions of tail-pulling and wrestling to impress the female. He also fills up his egg pouch with water and then expels it as forcefully as he can, trying to prove his fitness and worthiness.

Once the female selects a mate, she deposits her eggs in his pouch and leaves him to gestate for three weeks. During that time, the pregnant papa doesn’t venture far away from his nesting spot, and the only food he eats is whatever happens to float by. The female, meanwhile, is free to go off and gorge herself wherever she can find the best chow. Seahorses are monogamous, so Mama does return home each night to provide a bit of prenatal care (like “fanning” the eggs so they stay clean and get sufficient oxygen).


When the male goes into labor, the contractions usually last 72 painful hours, during which time most of the color drains from him; he turns pasty white (and there is no starfish nearby coaching him to use his patterned breathing). After he finally expels the babies, this glutton for punishment shows off his pouch and begs the female to impregnate him once more.

Stay-at-Home Dad

The Emperor Penguin is the largest penguin in the world - it grows up to three feet tall and lives in the frigid waters of the Antarctic. When the time comes to mate in May and June, the male penguins hop out of the water in large groups and head inland, marching in single file. They meet up with the females and proceed to engage in a traditional mating ritual. The female will then lay her egg (usually only one per penguin) and hand them off to the male. Papa places the egg on top of his feet, and covers it with a large layer of belly fat called the “brood flap.” Mama then takes off and forages for the next two to three months, while Papa penguin stands still and keeps the egg warm. As many as 1,000 penguins will huddle together in an area called a “rookery,” keeping each other warm, standing in the same spot while the temperature plunges to -80°F until the egg hatches.


The male doesn’t eat anything during this time, and he usually loses up to half of his body weight by the time the chick is hatched. When the chicks do emerge, they’re hungry, so dad has to regurgitate what little he has left in his stomach to feed them. The mothers return shortly after the chicks are hatched and take over the feeding and nurturing chores. The fathers have become quite maternal by this point and are at first reluctant to part with their charges, but they soon realize that they’re starving and they hand off junior to mom so they can go and gorge themselves.

Crazy (for Kits) Like a Fox

Don’t tell their wild canine counterparts (like the wolf and coyote), but the red fox gets just as gooey over children as your average human father.

When mama gives birth to her pups, she is unable to leave the den for several weeks, so papa fox brings her food every four to six hours. Once the pups are mobile, researchers have observed papa foxes delighting in romping and playing with their offspring. When the pups are about three months old, it’s time to teach them the various harsh realities of life, and their daddies are there to instruct them. About the time mom stops nursing, dad will bring food close to the den and cover it with twigs or leaves and teach their offspring how to forage. As the pups grow older and learn to find food on their own, papa ups the tutelage and starts pouncing on them as they dine to teach them the danger of predators.

Rhea Love

Native to South America, rheas are large, flightless, long-necked birds that somewhat resemble the ostrich. Male rheas are polyamorous – that is, they have too much love within them to be confined to just one female. But unlike human men who use that excuse when they’re invited by Maury Povich to undergo multiple DNA tests, rhea males take very serious responsibility for their excessive breeding.


After mating, they get to work building a nest for the combined 10 to 60 eggs their various baby mamas will lay. Not every egg will hatch, because Papa sacrifices a few for use as decoys – he moves them outside of the nest to satisfy any predators and keep them from approaching closer. The male also incubates the eggs, and once they hatch they’re strictly Daddy’s chicks until they’re six months old. The male protects them very aggressively, calls them back when they wander too far afield, and lets them nestle under his feathers during nap time.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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