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Erin McCarthy

13 Fun Facts About the Internet’s Cutest Cat, Lil Bub

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Erin McCarthy

Vice’s documentary about the cutest creature on the planet, Lil Bub—aptly titled Lil Bub & Friendzopens at the Tribeca Film Festival today. To celebrate, mental_floss went to Social Tees Animal Rescue for an interview with the feline star and her owner, Mike Bridavsky, before a meet and greet with her adoring fans. Here’s what she told us about herself.

1. The official story is that Bub was discovered in a rural Indiana tool shed in June 2011, the runt of a litter of feral cats. But Bub didn't look like any of her siblings, Bridavsky says, "which leads us to believe that she may actually be an alien creature that crashed to Earth, and found this litter of Earth kittens and just joined them to fit in."

2. Because of the shape of her mouth, Bub couldn't nurse, so she was bottle fed until she could eat on her own.


Bub outside Social Tees Animal Rescue. Photo by Erin McCarthy

3. When he first saw her, Bub's vet said she was the weirdest cat he had ever seen. At the time, Bub was 8 weeks old and weighed just 6 ounces, about the size of a hacky sack. "He was concerned that with so many birth defects she may not live very long, maybe only a few months," Bridavsky says. "But after doing some tests it turned out she was in good shape!" She and Bridavsky lived a pretty normal life until one of her photos went viral in 2012.

4. A day in the life of Bub is pretty regimented. She sleeps in bed with Bridavsky on her green blanket (which she also travels with). After they wake up, they take a trip outside so Bub can go to the bathroom. Then Bridavsky mixes Bub's food and medicine, which she eats while he's in the shower; after he gets out, he has to rearrange her food because she smushes it. "She’s a lot of work," Bridavsky says, "but I love doing it. It’s great. We have a good relationship." While Bridavsky prepares the daily Bub blog post, she naps in his lap. Later, they might shoot some photos for the blog or go outside and hang out.


Photo by Samantha Brody for Social Tees Animal Rescue

5. Bub has an extra toe on each foot, for a total of 22 toes. (Most cats have 18.)

6. Since becoming an Internet sensation last year, Bub has traveled nearly 10,000 miles to places like New York City, Minneapolis, and Portland. She comes on the plane with Bridavsky and hangs out in her carrier at his feet. "She usually sleeps through the flight," Bridavsky says. "Airports and everything, she’s totally fine."


Photo by Samantha Brody for Social Tees Animal Rescue

7. Bub has met many celebrities—including Twilight’s Jackson Rathbone—but the star she’d most like to shake paws with is Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman. (She’s also open to guest starring on the show, if anyone at NBC is reading this.)

8. When Bub wants to treat herself, she goes for one thing: Yogurt. And nothing but Brown Cow yogurt will do.

9. For a small cat—she weighs just 3.9 pounds—Bub snores pretty loudly. But it's still adorable.

10. Although she's a cat, Bub prefers dogs.

11. Bub's favorite internet cat/boyfriend is Smoosh, another celebrity feline from Bloomington, Indiana. His owner, David, designs Bub's merchandise. 


Photo by Erin McCarthy

12. Most of the proceeds from the sale of Bub's merchandise goes to animal shelters in her hometown, including the Bloomington Animal Shelter, the Monroe County Humane Association, and the Exotic Feline Rescue Center. When Bub does meet and greets, people who want to see her must make a donation of money, food, or other supplies to the shelter that's hosting the event. "I’m still looking for a national organization that specializes in special needs cats and cats with birth defects," Bridavsky says.

13. Bub has dwarfism, an underdeveloped jaw, and no teeth—that's why her tongue sticks out! It's also likely that she has osteopetrosis, a rare bone disease. "I think there’s only been a couple reported cases in cats," Bridavsky says. "They think that her bones will continue to grow and get more deformed as she gets older, so it’ll never stop. It seems to have slowed down—her body hasn’t changed much, but the hardest thing is for her to walk around." The most important thing to know about Bub, though, is that despite the challenges she faces, she's a happy, healthy cat.


Photo by Samantha Brody for Social Tees Animal Rescue
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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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