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Erin McCarthy

20 Adorable Photos from Meet the Breeds 2013

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Erin McCarthy

Every year, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and The International Cat Association (TICA) gather more than 200 breeds of adorable puppies and kittens in New York City's Jacob Javits Center. Here's what we learned at the 2013 show. (And if this isn't enough cute for your Monday, check out last year's post.) 

Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

1. Napoleon

This gentle, affectionate breed of cats dates back to 1996, when Joe Smith decided to breed doll-faced Persians with Munchkins. He called the new breed—which has a low-slung body and short legs—Napoleons after the famously petit Napoleon Bonaparte. They come in both long- and short-haired (top) varieties.

2. Xoloitzcuintli

These dogs, which hail from Mexico, have been around for over 3000 years. They can be hairless or coated. (It’s pronounced “show-low-eats-queen-tlee,” by the way.)

3. Egyptian Mau

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

You might recognize this spotted breed from Ancient Egyptian heiroglyphics; it’s the oldest domesticated cat, and the only natural spotted breed, according to TICA. Maus have five distinguishing characteristics: Their gooseberry green eyes; the brow line and eye set that gives the breed a naturally worried appearance; a “tiptoe” stance (because the hind legs are longer than the front legs); and a flap of skin extending from the posterior of the ribcage to the hind leg. The cat has three colors: Bronze, silver, and smoke (above).

4. Pomeranian

These pint-sized pups get their name from Pomerania, an area that now lies in northern Germany and Poland. Originally, the dogs weighed between 20 and 30 pounds, but they were miniaturized and popularized by a royal—England's Queen Victoria!

5. Minskin

These playful cats look like a sphynx, but not quite. Minskins—recognized as a “preliminary new breed” by TICA—have short legs and fur points on the face, ears, nose, legs, and tail. The body is sometimes fuzzy, but the belly is always hairless. The breed was created in Boston in 1998 by Paul McSorley, who crossed a Munchkin with short legs and hair with a Sphynx; Devon Rex and Burmese cats were also used in the breeding program. The first Minskin was born in July 2000.

6. Schipperke

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

These cute little dogs come from the Flemish provinces of Belgium; they're a smaller version of black sheepdogs called Leauvenaars. Their name means “little captain” in Flemish and is pronounced “sheep-er-ker.”

7. Burmilla

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

These pretty cats, which are rare in the United States, came about by accident. In 1981, a baroness purchased a Chinchilla Persian named Jemari Sanquist for her husband. Shortly before he was due to be neutered, Sanquist met up with a Lilac Burmese female named Bambino Lilac Faberge (a housekeeper had left Faberge’s door open!). After Faberge had four beautiful female kittens—all short hair, black shaded silver—a breeding program began.

8. Basenji

These short-haired African hunting dogs are one of the oldest breeds; the first specimens were found in ancient Egypt, where they were given as gifts to the Pharaohs. Basenjis don't bark, but that doesn't mean they're silent: In fact, they have vocalizations that sound like yodeling

9. Australian Mist

This breed is new to the United States—there are only about 20 Australian Mist cats in the whole country. They were created in 1976 by crossing Burmese, Abyssinian and Australian Domestic shorthair cats, and come in two patterns (spotted or marbled) and seven colors (brown, blue, chocolate, lilac, caramel, gold or peach). The name changed from Spotted Mist to Australian Mist in 1998, when cats with marbled fur were accepted as part of the breed.

10. Bergamasco Sheepdog

These mop-topped dogs are an ancient breed that hails from the Alps. Their fur is composed of long, cord-like mats called flocks, which don't shed.

11. Snowshoe

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

These cats are named for their white feet. The breed originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, when Dorothy Hinds Daugherty found three kittens in a litter of Siamese that had white feet. She liked the combination of markings so much that she started a breeding program, crossing the kittens with American shorthair cats that had tuxedo markings.

12. Chow Chow

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

The origin of these fluffy dogs is unknown, but they've been around as far back as China's Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 22 A.D.)—you can recoginze them in pottery and sculptures from that era. It's one of only two breeds of dog that have a blue-black tongue (the other is the Shar-pei). According to the AKC, the name Chow Chow most likely derived from 18th century pidgin English words for knick-knacks that came from the Orient. 

13. Balinese

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

These guys are basically Siamese cats with long coats—but although they’re vocal cats, they’re quieter than the Siamese.

14. Akita

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

These hunting dogs are a pretty big deal in their native Japan: Not only are they one of seven breeds designated as a national monument, but when a child is born, the family receives a statue of the dog, which signifies health, happiness, and a long life. The first Akita was brought to the U.S. in 1937 by none other than Helen Keller. 

15. Somali

These fox look-a-likes are long-haired versions of Abyssinian cats. The breed was named after Somali, a country that borders Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia).

16. American Shorthair

The American Shorthair came to this country with early settlers. They were known in early cat exhibitions as Domestic Shorthairs, but the name changed in the early 1960s.

17. Boykin Spaniel

This breed evolved from a small stray discovered wandering in Spartanburg, South Carolina, between 1905 and 1910. The dog, which had a good hunting instinct, was adopted and sent to Whit Boykin to be trained, where it developed into a good turkey dog and eventually a waterfowl retriever. Boykin Spaniels are now the state dog of South Carolina.

18. Munchkin

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

Though short-legged cats have a long, globe-spanning history, the current Munchkin line can be traced back to 1983, when Sandra Hockenedel found a pregnant short-legged female cat that she named Blackberry. Hockenedel gave a male from one of Blackberry's litters to a friend, and it's these two cats, crossed with domestics, that created the Munchkin breed.

19. Berger Picard

These French herding dogs were nearly extinct after World Wars I and II, and they're still very rare—there are only about 4000 of the dogs in the world today, and only 450 in the United States.

20. Cane Corso

Photo by Sean Hutchinson

This breed's name is derived from the Latin Cohors, meaning guardian or protector. Prior to 1988, the dogs were only known to Southern Italy. You can find them in many Italian artworks, including illustrations and engravings by Bartolomeo Pinelli.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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