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10 People Who Became Dog Toys

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Dog toys generally come in three designs: classic toys such as Frisbees and tennis balls, indestructible designs like the Kong line, and cute animals that are fuzzy or squeaky. Of course, the problem with the cute designs is that they are usually the most easily destroyed. So rather than letting your pup rip an adorable kitten or duck to shreds, why not let him take out someone you really don't like?

1. Michael Vick

After police uncovered a horrific dogfighting ring at Michael Vick's home in Virginia in 2007, it's no surprise that he became a chew toy. Several, actually. Above is the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles incarnation. This design is guaranteed to be indestructible no matter how hard your dog tries to rip off his head.

2. Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden was one of the most hated men in the world prior to his death. While you may not be able to acquire any of his actual body parts for your mutt to chew on, Osama Bone Laden offers an alternative.

3. Saddam Hussein

While he may be long gone, plenty of people want their dogs to remember just how terrible Saddam Hussein was.

4. Barack Obama

For the 2008 elections, Fat Cat, Inc. released a line of “Political Animals” featuring some of the main political icons of the time, including John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

5. George W. Bush

Of course, before George W. Bush was out of office, the Democrats had a little fun with their own dog toys. In fact, there was both a regular Bush toy and one specifically dedicated to his lame duck period in office. VP Dick Cheney was also included.

6. Michael Moore

Even when Bush was in office, though, Republicans had their own targets of political loathing, including liberal documentarian Michael Moore.

7. Tony Blair

Don't think Americans are the only ones who like to turn their highest ranking political officials into chew toys. The Brits are apparently just as fond of this game. There were at least two toys featuring the former Prime Minister and even one depicting his wife.

8. David Cameron

During the 2010 election, current Prime Minister David Cameron was spoofed by the Camberbike Dave toy, while Gordon Brown was renamed Gordon Clown.

9. Boris Johnson

While Boris Johnson didn’t run for Prime Minister, he earned his own “Boinking Boris” chew toy after he was caught having an affair back in 2006.

10. Bill Gates

Of course, not all dog toy subjects are political figures or people hated by an entire nation. Years ago Fat Cat, Inc. released their Bill Gates chew toy. The company has retired this design, so you’ll have to look for one on eBay.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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