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A Brief History of the Cat Café

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What starts with a C and wakes you up first thing in the morning?

If you said coffee, you’re half right. But the other half you may not have considered. Cat cafés are popping up all over the world, giving guests a chance to partake in warm beverages and pastries whilst communing with feline friends in a public environment. No litter boxes to tend to, no paws kneading on the bedposts in the morning, but all the psychological benefits that go along with the company of a good kitty. Here's what you need to know about the new trend that's meowing its way around the globe.

Early Cat Cafés

The world's first cat cafe, Cat Flower Garden, opened in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. Soon, what began as a venture to provide young urbanites the chance to unwind after a hectic day became a favorite tourist destination. But cat cafés truly took off when they made their way to Japan.

At one of Toyko's first cat cafes, Neko no mise (Shop of Cats), which opened in 2005, the only cats that can't be cuddled are fragile newborns. Japan's capital city is now home to dozens of the establishments, which are popular, Neko no mise owner Norimasa Hanada told Vice, because "most Japanese rental apartments prohibit pets. The only ones that allow them are condominium apartments for families. This means that young, single-dwelling workers in their 20s and 30s can’t even think about getting any pets, despite the fact that they’re stressed out and are seeking comfort and companionship of some kind."

Cat Cafés in North America and Beyond

In April, New York became home to America’s first cat café (aptly named Cat Café), which was sponsored by Purina ONE with adoptable cats from North Shore Animal League. Though there were lines around the block to get in, the café was just a short-term pop-up. For now, it looks like America's first permanent cat cafés will find their homes in California's Bay Area: Two cat cafés—one in San Francisco, and one in Oakland— are slated to open there this year.

San Francisco’s KitTea is set to play host to rescued feral cats, and Oakland’s Cat Town will offer visitors the chance to adopt the felines at their cat café.

In North America, other establishments are entering into the “cat race,” with plans to open cat cafés in San Diego, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

Meanwhile, Europe has been on top of the trend, with cat cafés in Berlin, Paris, and Turin, to name a few. The UK has also gotten going on its first feline-friendly café. With the help of more than 100,000 British Pounds in donations, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium opened in city’s hip, up-and-coming East End in March and has already managed to book itself up for a few months.

So next time you wake up looking for a quick pick-me-up, consider that it’s not just caffeine you need. Soon you might be able to start your day with a little help from your feline friends.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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