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Fuzzy Math: How Do “Dog Years” Work?

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My next-door neighbors have a little terrier named Melvin (not pictured). My old neighbor had a very big Bernese mountain dog (also not pictured). I didn’t know its name, and usually just referred to it as The Big Dog or The Beast. Ten Melvins, soaking wet and carrying a few dollars in change in their mouths, would probably weigh about the same as The Big Dog. The Big Dog could probably eat all ten of those Melvins, and the change, and still be hungry.

In other words, no two dog breeds are created equal, even if all dogs go to heaven. They come in different shapes and sizes. They reach maturity at different ages and time takes its toll on their bodies differently. On average, smaller dogs like Melvin have longer lifespans (14-16 years) than big ones (12-13 years), which have longer lifespans than certain “giant breeds” like the Bernese (7-10 years).

Age is an important piece of social information and can tell you a number of things about a person. Since dogs are social creatures and are part of many of our social circles, it’s nice to have that information about them, too. With the way different breeds mature and age at different rates, though, things can get confusing. A five-year-old terrier isn’t at the same point in its life as a five-year-old Great Dane. In fact, the two dogs are pretty much at opposite ends of their lifespans.

To work around this snag, people have long followed the rule that “dog year” is equal to seven human years and multiplying a dog’s age by seven gives you its age in the context of the human lifespan. The x7 trick is easy enough to do, but it’s no more helpful than just giving the dog’s age in dog years.

A five-year-old terrier and a five-year-old Great Dane are not only unlike each other in age, neither is similar to a 35-year-old human.

The dog year to human year conversion is especially inaccurate with very young dogs. A dog that’s one year old would be seven years old in human years. Most dog breeds are sexually mature and fully capable of reproducing when they’re one year old, while most seven-year-old humans are not. One just wants a puppy, but the other can make puppies.

Crafting a simple, proportional relationship between Rover’s age and yours might seem convenient, but it’s not doing anyone good. While no one formula for dog-to-human age conversion is scientifically agreed on, we can at least say that there are some better alternatives to multiplying by seven.

New Math

The folks at The Dog Guide suggest that when we think about “dog years,” we have to consider the breed and calculate accordingly. Across the board, they say, you can consider the first year of a dog’s life as equivalent to 15 or so human years. By that time, dogs and humans are approaching their adult size and have reached sexual maturity. On their 2nd birthday, you should add about 3-8 more years to your dogs “human age,” depending on size, and value each dog year as being worth 4-5 human years from that point on.

Stanley Coren, psychologist and author of How Dogs Think, The Pawprints of History and other dog books, uses a similar system. The way he sees it, one-year-old dogs and two-year-old dogs are like 16-year-old people and 24-year-old people, respectively, regardless of breed. For the next three years, each birthday tacks on five human years, and from age five and beyond, everything depends heavily on the dog’s size. Coren suggests adding four years of human life to the age of small dogs after age 5, and six years for large breeds.

When you’re crunching these numbers for your own dog, you should also keep in mind individual characteristics like weight, diet, exercise and veterinary care. If you have a terrier that weighs the same as a Bernese mountain dog, it’s a safe bet that the little porker’s lifespan is going to be decreased. If you keep your dog healthy, lean and on a quality diet, though, then they’ll skew a little younger in human years when the conversion system provides a little wiggle room.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]