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Jessi-Cat at Twitter

8 Heroic Cats

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Jessi-Cat at Twitter

These cats went above and beyond the call of duty to help others in need.

1. Tara

Four-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo was playing in front of his home when a neighbor’s dog came up and bit him and pulled him off his bike. The first to come to his rescue was the family cat, Tara, who body-slammed the dog, followed closely by Erica Triantafilo. Tara is one brave cat! Erica tried to chase the dog off, and she was bitten, too.

Jeremy was taken to a hospital where he received ten stitches. The original video, which was re-edited from several security cameras, was viewed 5 million times on YouTube in less than two days, before it was replaced with a version that does not show Jeremy’s raw wounds. The family appeared on The Today Show this morning.

The heroics displayed by Tara, a stray adopted by the family six years ago, surprised everyone.

“Every once in a while she puts our dog back into her place, but for the most part, she’s just the most mellow cat you’ve ever met,” Erica Triantafilo said. “All our boys love her and pick on her occasionally. She just loves them right back anyway.”

2. Pudding

Photograph from the Door County Humane Society.

In 2014, Amy Jung went down to the Door County (Wisconsin) Humane Society shelter to play with the cats. Jung was not planning to adopt one, but went home with two. Pudding, a 21-pound cat, stood out and seem drawn to Jung. She took him and another cat named Wimsy home with her. Later that night, Jung suffered a diabetic seizure in her sleep. Pudding jumped up on her and woke her up enough to call out to her son Ethan, but he was asleep. So Pudding ran to Ethan’s room and jumped on him to wake him up. Ethan was able to get his mother medical attention, but she might have sunk into a coma without intervention. Since the incident, Jung has registered Pudding as a therapy animal.

3. Rusty

Claire Nelson of Reading, Pennsylvania, adopted Rusty as an adult cat from the Humane Society. Two years later, in June of 2011, Nelson wanted to lay down because she wasn’t feeling well, but Rusty kept bothering her, which was out of character for him. The 66-year-old former nurse took inventory and decided to visit her doctor’s office, but Nelson began feeling much worse at the bus stop and called 911. Doctors at the hospital found that she had suffered a heart attack! Surgery followed and Nelson had two stents implanted. When she returned home, Rusty was back to his normal self, but would not leave her side. Nelson credits him with saving her life.

4. Pwditat

As Terfel, a dog who lives in Wales, aged, his eyes became blurred by cataracts. Eventually he became completely blind. Terfel's owner, Judy Godfrey-Brown, said he had a hard time adjusting; he walked into walls and became afraid to move around the house. When Godfrey-Brown invited a stray cat into her home, it was like the answer to a prayer. The new cat, named Pwditat (this is in Wales, remember) immediately became a guide for Terfel. The cat uses her paws to guide Terfel around the house and into the garden for some fresh air. The two animals became inseparable, and even sleep together. Watch Pwditat in action in a video

5. Jessi-Cat

Photograph from Jessi-Cat at Twitter.

Lorcan Dillon is affected by Selective Mutism, which makes it difficult for him to express himself. The condition is often confused with autism. But Lorcan received the most valuable therapy from his pet cat, Jessi-cat. The cat accepts Lorcan unconditionally and gives him a patient ear. For her loyalty and devotion, Jessi-Cat was named the UK’s National Cat of the Year 2012. Lorcan’s mother, Jayne Dillon, said,

“He does not express his emotions, he would not say 'I love you Mummy', he just doesn't do it. But with the cat he can cuddle her, he can stroke her, he can talk to her and he can say 'I love you Jessi-Cat.'

“She is without a doubt the best friend a boy could have and has had a huge positive impact on his life. We’ve had her for a couple of years and in the last year alone he seems to be making excellent progress at school. In the past two weeks he’s started communicating with people he doesn’t know very well and even reads to one of the teachers now – something he’s never done before.”

Jessi-Cat’s story has since been published as a book.

6. Scarlett

In 1996, a fire broke out in a suspected crack house in Brooklyn. A cat later named Scarlett was observed carrying her kittens out of the building one by one. She was severely burned, and blinded by blisters. She touched each kitten with her nose to make sure they were all safe from the fire, then collapsed. Firefighter David Giannelli took the cat and kittens to the North Shore Animal League clinic. The League received 7000 applications to adopt Scarlett and her kittens! Three families were selected, and Scarlett made a full recovery, albeit with damaged eyelids and ears. The hero cat was taken by Karen Wellen, who cared for her until her death 11 years later. Scarlett's story was made into a book, Scarlett Saves her Family, and a children's book, The Bravest Cat. The North Shore Animal League created an honor in her name, the Scarlett Award, for animal heroism.

7. Simon

Simon was born in 1947 in Hong Kong. As a half-grown cat, he was taken aboard the HMS Amethyst to control rats. In 1949, the ship was attacked on the Yangtze River in China by communists. Simon was wounded, but not found for days. The injured sailors had been evacuated, so the ship's doctor nursed Simon's facial burns and shrapnel wounds. As Simon recovered he resumed rat catching, but also added the duty of visiting sick and wounded sailors.

Upon his return to Hong Kong, Simon was presented with a campaign ribbon and news that he would receive a Dicken Medal, an award for animal gallantry. When the Amethyst reached England, Simon had to go into quarantine. He developed an infection and died just before his planned formal medal ceremony. The veterinarian believed the young cat would have recovered if his war wounds hadn't weakened him. Simon was buried in a specially-made casket with full naval honors. See more pictures of Simon. 

8. Faith

A stray cat wandered into St Augustine's and St. Faith's Church in London in 1936. She was named Faith and adopted by the rector and parishioners. She would sit at the pulpit while Father Henry Ross preached. In 1940, Faith gave birth to a single kitten named Panda. On September 6, Faith demanded access to the church basement. When a door was opened for her, she carried her kitten down to the dark cellar. Father Ross retrieved the kitten twice, but Faith carried him back downstairs—twice. She even missed a church service, which was unusual.

The next day, air raids began in the Battle of London, and by September 9, 400 people had been killed and eight churches were destroyed by bombs. Father Ross returned to the church to find it ruined. He called for Faith and heard faint meowing in return. He retrieved both Faith and Panda from the rubble just before the roof collapsed. Faith was nominated for a Dickin Medal, for which she was not eligible as a civilian, but she was awarded a special medal for bravery anyway. Faith was presented with the medal in a special ceremony in 1945 attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury. When Faith died peacefully at the age of 14, the church was again packed for her funeral.

There are many other hero cats that have saved people from gas leaks, house fires, and medical emergencies

See also: 7 Heroic Dogs

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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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