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10 Things You Might Not Know About Diplodocus

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Diplodocus ranks among the most impressive animals that’s ever walked the earth and, thanks to a great philanthropist, it’s also become one of the world’s favorite dinosaurs. So, let’s get a little better acquainted with this captivating creature.

1. Andrew Carnegie Was a Big Diplodocus Fan.

A steel industry giant who loved his dinos, Carnegie financed several fossil-finding expeditions, one of which yielded a gigantic Diplodocus specimen in 1899. As an act of goodwill, he donated meticulously-crafted casts of the skeleton (nicknamed “Dippy”) to museums in such cities as Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Moscow, and London.

2. Young Diplodocus Were Finicky Eaters.

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Like many human kids, adolescent Diplodocus were a bit picky. Because they had much narrower snouts than adults did, juveniles proportionally grabbed less food with each bite. It’s been suggested that this is because they exclusively ate higher-quality plants while growing up.

3. A Faction of Paleontologists Once Thought that Diplodocus Sprawled Like a Lizard.

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We now know that Diplodocus held those column-like legs directly underneath its body. Back in 1910, however, some scientists claimed that these limbs actually jetted out to the side. Enter William Jacob Holland (1848-1932), a zoologist and minister with a knack for cheesy one-liners. As Holland pointed out, this king-sized dinosaur had a deep, protruding rib cage. Ergo, if Diplodocus sprawled, its dragging belly would’ve carved a huge trench—or “rut”—through the soil every time it went for a stroll. Dripping with sarcasm, he added “This might perhaps account for his early extinction. It is physically and mentally bad to ‘get into a rut.’”

4. One Particularly Huge Diplodocus Species Was Over 100 Feet Long.

Wikimedia Commons

Conservative estimates hold that Diplodocus hallorum—previously known as Seismosaurus halli stretched a remarkable 110 feet from end to end. So, does this make it the longest dinosaur ever? No. Patagonia’s Argentinosaurus, India’s Bruhathkayosaurus, and Colorado’s Supersaurus appear to have been comparable in length. And then there’s the mysterious Amphicoelias, which quite possibly dwarfed them all. But because all five are only known from annoyingly-incomplete specimens, paleontologists can merely speculate about which one (if any) deserves that crown.

5. It Had Plenty of Long-Necked Neighbors.

Wikimedia Commons

Unless you’re living in a Land Before Time movie, “sauropod” is the proper term for “long-necked” herbivorous dinosaurs. One hundred and fifty million years ago, Diplodocus lived alongside several other members of this group in the wilds of North America, including Camarasaurus, Brachiosaurus, and even Apatosaurus, the dino formerly known as Brontosaurus.

6. Some Believe Diplodocus’ Whip-Like Tail Could’ve Broken the Sound Barrier.

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These herbivores might have used their sinuous tails to produce an intimidating thwacking noise in the event of a predator attack. Hopefully, that’d be frightening enough; being forced to actually make contact with the opponent’s skin likely meant breaking several of its own vertebrae.

7. Diplodocus Didn’t Chew—It Gulped.

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When you’ve got a 12-ton body to feed, chewing is a time-waster you can’t afford. According to a 2012 skull analysis, Diplodocus’ jaws were designed to remove leaves from branches by stripping and/or plucking them off. Whatever Diplodocus consumed was mostly swallowed whole before getting broken down during digestion. 

8. Scientists Aren’t Sure if Diplodocus Held its Head High.

Would sauropods like Diplodocus have preferred holding their necks horizontally (as seen above) or raising them upwards? A case can be made for both interpretations. On the one hand, if such a large neck was kept parallel to the ground, blood might’ve flowed more easily to the dino’s brain. Yet, on the other hand, this could prevent Diplodocus from browsing on tree limbs, cutting off a potentially important food source. Also, living animals almost universally incline their necks upwards to some degree.

9. Diplodocus Replaced its Teeth With Incredible Speed.

Wikimedia Commons

Like today’s sharks, this animal and its kin constantly replaced their own teeth and “would’ve had a fresh tooth in each position every one to two months, sometimes less,” says Dr. Michael D’Emic of Stony Brook University. “Effectively, sauropods took a ‘quantity over quality’ approach” to their dental arsenals.

10. Teddy Roosevelt Wrote That If Diplodocus Were Still Alive, He’d Enjoy Shooting One.

Getty Images / Thinkstock

When you’re hunting dinosaurs, carrying a big stick doesn’t cut it. In 1905, Carnegie and Holland visited the U.K. to show off one of their Diplodocus casts, to the delight of British cartoonists. After they returned home, the Bull Moose himself wrote an enthusiastic letter of congratulations: “What a bully time you must have had in London! The delight which the political caricaturists made of your Diplodocus was most amusing. What a pity the thing died out! What glorious shooting we would have had on the Little Missouri if it survived to our time!” 

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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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