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8 Wonderful Dog Stories

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When I compiled the post 10 Stories of Lifesaving Dogs, I found more heroic dogs than I needed that day, plus quite a few other dogs that accomplished wonderful things. Here are the stories of eight more.

1. Cairo the SEAL Dog

Cairo the military dog was born and bred for the job. He is a Belgian Malinois, a shepherd breed that few were familiar with, until Cairo's story became news. After Cairo trained to be a Military Working Dog at a young age, he advanced to Navy SEAL training. Cairo was the only dog to accompany Navy SEAL Team 6 as they raided Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. Cairo was strapped to his handler as they were lowered from a helicopter, and wore special body armor while bursting into the compound. The dog is the only member of SEAL Team 6 to be publicly named.

2. Dozer the Marathon Dog

Dozer, a three-year-old "goldendoodle," saw a bunch of people run by his home in Fulton, Maryland. He became so excited that he crossed his invisible fence and started running with them. Seven miles later, Dozer crossed the finish line of the Maryland Half Marathon, a fundraising event for the University of Maryland's Greenebaum Cancer Center. The runners did not know Dozer was alone. He returned home the next day, looking so tired that his owners took him to the vet. Word got around, and they realized Dozer was the dog on the marathon's TV coverage. Marathon organizers gave Dozer a special award. Now he has his own runner's page and Facebook fan page -and he's raised $21,000 for the cancer center!

3. Lada the Loyal Babysitter

Olga, a 22-year-old woman in Saratov, Russia took her dog and her baby son Vadim to a park and met up with friends. After a few drinks, Olga went home and left her baby behind! Luckily, her dog Lada was with the baby. Olga woke the next morning and realized the child was missing. She thought Vadim had been abducted, but her father went to the park and found the baby in his pram, with Lada still beside him. The rottweiler had stood guard over him all night long. Vadim was wet and hungry, but unharmed, and was placed in the care of his grandmother.

4. Belle Calls 911

Kevin Weaver has diabetes. He also has a specially-trained beagle named Belle who can sense when his blood sugar levels are off. She licks his nose, and then paws at him to signal that he should take a reading. In the summer of 2006, Belle put another skill to work. Weaver suffered a seizure and collapsed. Belle grabbed the man's cell phone and bit down on the number 9, just like she had been trained. The number was programmed to dial 911, and emergency workers soon arrived. Belle was later given the VITA Wireless Samaritan Award for those who use cell phones to save lives. Belle was the first dog to ever win the award.

5. Dorado the Brave Guide

Omar Eduardo Rivera is a blind computer technician who uses a guide dog. On September 11, 2001, Rivera was working on the 71st floor of the World Trade Center when a plane hit the building above him. His dog Dorado was under Rivera's desk, as usual. As the building evacuation began, Rivera smelled the smoke and heard the chaos in the stairwell. He took the Labrador retriever's leash off, so the dog could escape. Dorado ignored Rivera's order to go ahead, and escorted his master down 70 flights of stairs. They were separated by the rush of the crowd for a few minutes, but Dorado found his way back to Rivera and continued down the stairs. They reached the ground about an hour after they began the descent, only a few minutes before the building collapsed.

6. Chaser the Dog of Many Words

Border collies are known for their intelligence. Chaser is a border collie that belongs to a retired psychology professor. John W. Pilley read about a dog who learned to recognize 200 German nouns, and decided to see if Chaser could learn words as well. Working with the dog for around five hours a day, Chaser learned to recognize the names of a couple of new objects every day, to a current total of 1,022 nouns! Along the way, Chaser got the idea that learning words is her job, so now the 82-year-old Pilley has a hard time taking it easy, as Chaser demands her lessons! Pilley is now teaching Chaser verbs and basic grammar.

7. Rowan the Echolocator

A German spitz named Rowan was born without eyes, but gets around almost as well as a sighted dog. Rowan learned to use the reverberations of his bark to determine where objects are in the great outdoors. This is a version of echolocation, in which a blind person (or dog, in this case) creates a mental map by comparing the way sound bounces back in an echo. Rowan was not taught to "see" this way, but his owners noticed how his behavior outside changed when the trees filled out with leaves. Most people who meet Rowan don't even realize he is blind -they just wonder why he keeps his eyes shut.

8. Dexter the War Hero

Dexter's full name is Military Working Dog Dexter CO67, but he is now retired after service in Afghanistan. Dexter served for six years, during which time he detected a garbage truck filled with explosives and saved at least a thousand military personnel and civilians. After his tour, he was scheduled to be euthanized because of hip problems and the fact that military dogs are hard to place for adoption because of their aggressiveness. His handler, Kathleen Ellison, went to work to save Dexter through the organization Military Working Dog Adoptions. Veteran Danny Scheurer, who worked with dogs during his military service, agreed to adopt Dexter and bring him home to Spring Grove, Illinois. Dexter also became the first canine member of the American Legion when he was accepted as a full member by Fox Lake American Legion Post 703.

See also: 10 Stories of Lifesaving Dogs, 7 Heroic Dogs, 6 Utterly Loyal Dogs, and 6 Awesome Dogs with 6 Awesome Stories.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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