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How 7 Obese Animals Lost Weight

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facebook.com/BiggestLoserDoxieEdition

Humans aren’t the only species with an obesity problem. A recent study shows that 55 percent of domestic dogs and cats are overweight or obese, and even zoo animals are getting in on this unhealthy trend. Fat cats and dogs might be cute, but animal obesity is nothing to laugh at. Here’s how seven animals dropped a few pounds and got healthy.

 1. Obie the Dachshund: Diet, Exercise, and Surgery

Eight months ago, this Portland, Oregon pooch (above) tipped the scales at 77 pounds. A diet and exercise routine helped him shed 40 pounds, and a recent surgery took off 2.5 pounds of loose skin. Now 37 pounds, Obie needs to lose just 5 more to be at his goal weight; you can follow his progress on Facebook.

2. Bobby the Rabbit: Diet and Exercise

PDSA Flickr

When Bobby, a bunny from Richmond in North Yorkshire, England, came to the PDSA’s Pet Fit Club, she weighed 5.2 pounds—nearly two pounds above the ideal weight for a rabbit of her size.  In fact, the fold under her chin (called a dewlap) so was large that it kept her from grooming herself properly. To help Bobby drop the pounds in a healthy way, owner Becky Magson got the rabbit new toys and built her a pen that gave her a lot of opportunities to run around. By the end of the program, Bobby was down to a healthy weight for her size; her grooming was back to normal, and Magson reported that she was much happier and more alert.

3 and 4. Lowland Gorillas Bebac and Mokolo: Diet and Foraging

In 2008, handlers at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo started their quest to get these two male apes—who have heart disease—down to a healthy weight. Step one was eliminating processed biscuits, which made up the bulk of their food, from their diet. Instead, the staff placed vegetables and leafy greens around the enclosure so the apes would have to forage for it, as they would in the wild. This not only catered to the apes' natural behavior, but also increased their activity level. By 2011, Bebac had lost 20 pounds, and Mokolo had lost 60 pounds.

5. Holly the Cat: Swimming

It seemed like there wasn’t anything Holly’s owner, Dani Lawhorne, could do to get her to become more active. The nearly 20 pound, 13 year old cat didn’t like catnip or playing with toys, and hated going for walks outside. So Lawhorne tried something unconventional: Swimming. After a month on her new fitness program—which also included a healthier diet—Holly dropped a pound.

6. and 7. Grizzly Bears Jim and Axhi: Healthier Diet (and Hiding the Food)

These grizzlies at the Brookfield Zoo outside of Chicago currently weigh about 900 pounds—but they weren’t always so fit. In fact, the pair was obese, thanks in part to their diet: The bears dined on processed dog food, ground beef, bread, and fruits like oranges, bananas, and mangoes. Zookeepers swapped out that food for whole prey such as fish and rabbits, and incorporated fruits and vegetables like kale, peppers, and heirloom apples. Additionally, the zookeepers stopped giving the animals food on a schedule and hid it around the exhibit so they had to sniff it out, as they would do in the wild. Putting wax worms in the bears’ foraging piles helped them burn calories while they searched for the tasty snacks. After a year of their new diet, the bears had lost hundreds of pounds. And it’s not just the bears who had their diets adjusted: Other animals at the zoo went on a Weight-Watchers-like program to ensure they were at their healthiest.

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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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