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7 Videos of People Rescuing Animals

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Some people can be pretty terrible to animals—but most people will try to help cuddly (and not-so-cuddly) creatures when they can. Here are some of the most incredible videos of people saving animals.

1. Surfers Saving a Shark

Ordinarily, surfers and great whites aren’t exactly friends, but when this great white shark pup washed up on a beach with a hook caught in its mouth, these brave surfers pulled it out of the water, removed the hook barehanded and then helped it get back in the water. Just a warning, you might want to watch this one on mute as the narration of the woman filming is more annoying than it is useful to understanding what’s happening.

2. A Diver Freeing A Dolphin

The coolest thing about this video isn’t that the diver helped remove the hook and cut the fishing line that was tangled around this poor dolphin, but that the animal seemingly knew the diver could help him. In fact, the group of divers probably wouldn’t have even noticed the dolphin’s predicament if it hadn’t come swimming right up to them and shown them something was wrong. The rescue sequence begins at about 3:30.

3. A Senior Climbing to Save A Kitten

Somehow a tiny kitten ended up on a tiny ledge, several stories off the ground. It meowed over and over, hoping someone would come to its aid; these cries managed to attract the attention of 60-year-old Kay Leclaire, who was jogging in the area. Leclaire just happens to be an expert climber who has previously scaled Mount Everest and is the oldest woman to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents, so she quickly headed home and grabbed her gear. By the end of the day, the kitten was not only back on the ground, but adopted by a loving family.

4. Rescuers Freeing An Owl

This poor gray horned owl flew into a chain link fence and got caught. Fortunately, Susan Clark of the Topanga Animal Rescue and Gary Strauss of Life Energy Institute were able to help cut the links away, free the owl, and check him for injuries. Perhaps one of the most amazing things about this video is just how calm the owl remains throughout the whole ordeal.

5. Power Company Workers Helping A Seagull

Somehow this poor bird managed to get his head caught between two electrical lines. Luckily for him, Nova Scotia Power sent out worker Yvon Blin to help free him. Unlike the owl stuck in the fence, this guy wasn’t particularly helpful to his rescuer—there’s a reason owls have a reputation for being wise while seagulls aren’t considered particularly bright.

6. People Pulling A Moose From A Swimming Pool

Perhaps they should change the expression “stubborn as a mule” to “stubborn as a moose.” After all, this guy seems to be doing all he can to help fight the team of nine people who are doing everything they can to help pull him out of the pool. While this video makes it seem like the moose might have just been enjoying a swim, an original, full-length version showed that he kept slipping further and further into the deep end and was unable to get back out.

7. Rescuers Cutting A Moose From The Ice

It seems not all moose are so difficult while being rescued. This big guy was relatively patient as he waited for people to cut away and smash the ice that was holding him in place. Of course, he was also probably trying to conserve his energy in the freezing waters.

While I’ve never been a part of a big-scale rescue like this, I always try to help stray dogs so they can be returned to their owners. Even knowing that I could have saved a pup from being hit by a car is a nice feeling. I’m sure any of you who have saved a critter have similar rewarding feelings—and of course, if you have any good stories, feel free to share them in the comments.

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]