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14 of Your Dog's Wild Relatives

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All the domestic breeds of dogs that we are familiar with, from chihuahuas to pit bulls, are the same species: Canis lupus familiaris. In fact, our dogs are a subspecies of Canis lupus, or wolf. Your dog could interbreed with most wolves -if you weren't a responsible pet owner who spayed or neutered your dog. Photograph by Flickr user Fatemeh.

Dogs belong to the taxonomic family Canidae (canines) which is divided into two tribes: those related to wolves (Canini) and those related to foxes (Vulpini). A couple of canine species lay outside these two tribes, but hyenas are not canines. They look like and act like dogs, but as we learned in a post last week, hyenas are more closely related to cats than to dogs! Let's look at some wild dogs that are related to your pet.

1. Gray Wolf

Lone Wolf, Colchester Zoo

The species Canis lupus covers a lot of dogs. There are 39 subspecies, one of them being all domestic dog breeds. Thirty-seven of these subspecies are wolves, the largest and most common being the Eurasian gray wolf (Canis lupus lupus), the common ancestor of domestic dog breeds. The gray wolf is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere and comes in black, brown, grey, and white, or a combination of these colors. It is not considered to be a threatened species, but is protected in some areas. Photograph by Flickr user BBM Explorer.

2. Arabian Wolf

Quite a few wolf subspecies look like the common gray wolf, but a few are strikingly different. The Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs) evolved to live in the deserts of the Middle East, which is why its hair is so short. The fur varies over time according to the season and local temperatures. Photograph by Wikipedia user ???? ?????.

3. Arctic Wolf

Arctic wolf

The Arctic wolf (Canis lupus arctos) is pretty much just a wolf that lives in the Arctic. The subspecies has adapted to its habitat by growing thick white fur that grows longer between the toes to protect its footpads and shorter ears and snout to conserve heat. Photograph by Flickr user dankos-unlmtd.

4. Coyote

Coyote_Crop

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are a species that has evolved as a canine predator but subsists alongside civilization better than most wolves. With less fear of humans, they've learned to help themselves to livestock, or will scavenge for garbage if no easy prey is available. However, we know at least one who is obsessed with a certain desert bird. Photograph by Flickr user Jean-Guy Dallaire.

5. Jackal

There are three Canis species classified as jackals, or Old World coyotes. Shown here is a black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) which is native to several areas of Africa. The side-striped jackal (Canis adustus) and the golden jackal (Canis aureus) are the other two species. Jackals are predators, but are also scavengers like the coyote, and while they prefer fresh meat, will eat anything available. Photograph by Wikipedia user Raoulduke47.

6. Dingo

Fraser Island 0573

The subspecies of Canis lupus that is neither domestic nor a wolf is Canis lupus dingo. However, there is some argument that dingos are indistinguishable from domestic dogs except for the fact that they are not domestic. The subspecies covers the Australian dingo plus some feral dogs of Asia such as the New Guinea Singing Dog. The Australian dingo is descended from domestic dogs that were brought to the island thousands of years ago which became feral over many generations. The dingos of Australia still interbreed with more recent domestic dogs, and so the subspecies is considered "vulnerable." Photograph by Flickr user Michael Dawes.

7. Dhole

A tale of two tales

The dhole (Cuon alpinus) of Asia is a dog of the Caninae family and Canini tribe, but has its own genus. You would recognize this creature as a dog, but it has more teats and fewer teeth than Canis, and whistles more than it barks or howls. They live in the forests and steppes of Russia, the Himalayas, and even as far south as Java. The biggest number of these endangered dogs live in India. Photograph by Flickr user Amit Kotwal.

8. Red Fox

Fox Kit Up Close

The other tribe of dog is the fox, or Vulpes. When we think of foxes, the image that comes up is usually the common red fox (Vulpes vulpes) which lives all over the Northern Hemisphere, plus Australia. It is the largest of the true foxes. Despite its name, it comes in varying colors, and there are 45 recognized subspecies. Photograph by Flickr user Brad Smith.

9. Kit Fox

The kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) is native to the deserts of the western United States and Mexico. Its skinny body and large ears are adaptive to desert life, like the coyotes it somewhat resembles. There are eight subspecies of kit fox, mostly named after their habitats, like the San Joaquin Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica).

10. Arctic Fox

Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus)

The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is sometimes classified as Alopex lagopus, which is an older classification that taxonomists still quarrel about. The lagopus sounds like a relation to rabbits, but in this case it refers to the fur that grows between the fox's toes to help protect them from cold surfaces. The Arctic fox could be mistaken for other fox species when seen in summer. Photograph by Flickr user Billy Lindblom.

Renard Arctique / Artic Fox

But this fox is very sensitive to seasonal changes, and will grow the thick warm white coat that made it famous by winter. Photograph by Flickr user Denis-Carl Robidoux.

11. Fennec Fox

Fennek

The fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) takes the desert adaptation of large ears used to dissipate heat to the max. The small nocturnal fox lives in the upper Sahara where heat dissipation is of the utmost importance. At just a couple of pounds and 9 to 16 inches long, the fennec fox is the world's smallest canid species (toy dog breeds are not representative of the species). Fennec foxes are sometimes kept as pets. Photograph by Flickr user Joachim S. Müller.

12. Island Fox and Gray Fox

Creeping

Urocyon is a genus of foxes that climb trees. The island fox (Urocyon littoralis), also called the Channel Island fox, is barely bigger than a fennec fox. The only other existing Urocyon species is the slightly bigger gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). Photograph by Flickr user Robert Thompson.

13. Raccoon Dog

Bawwwww

The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) is of the Canidae family, but is neither a wolf nor a fox. It is not at all related to a raccoon, but may be mistaken for one. A distant cousin of your dog, the raccoon dog is still a closer relation than a hyena. Raccoon dogs are native to eastern Asia and are farmed for their fur. Photograph by Flickr user Dennis Irrgang.

14. Bat-eared Fox

The bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) is another member of the Canidae family that is neither a wolf nor fox (despite the name). It is the only species of the genus Otocyon, and lives in the African savannah, eating insects -mostly termites. Its name comes from its distinctive big black ears. Photograph by Wikipedia user Samsara.

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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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

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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