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10 Facts About Ankylosaurus

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Whenever Ankylosaurus is mentioned—in basic cable documentaries, cheap time-travel novels, or elsewhere—you might as well just start counting the seconds until somebody inevitably compares it to a tank. Equipped with defensive plating and a formidable tail club, this dino was certainly built like one. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look … from a safe distance, of course!

1. It Was Named by A Future Military Operative (and Fur Coat Enthusiast).

Meaning “fused lizard,” the word “Ankylosaurus” was coined in 1908 by paleontologist Barnum Brown (1873-1963). Brown himself was named after bombastic showman P.T. Barnum and, like the great magician, had a knack for exuberance. Mindful of his wardrobe, he could often be seen wearing a dapper top hat and knee-length beaverskin coat, even while digging up fossils miles away from civilization. Years later, Brown gathered intelligence for the American armed forces during World War II. His second wife, Lillian, went on to write a wildly entertaining memoir titled I Married a Dinosaur about their exploits.

2. Ankylosaurus Was Covered in Thick, Protective Knobs.

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Like a modern alligator, Ankylosaurus’ back was littered with bony plates which would’ve been all but bite-proof to even the toughest of carnivores. These structures (scientifically known as “osteoderms”) also decorated much of the animal’s sides, tail, and skull, though—like most ankylosaurs—its naked belly seems to have lacked this line of protection entirely.

3. It Belonged to a Diverse Group of Heavily-Armored Dinos.

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The ankylosauria was an incredibly successful lineage whose members once populated every continent except Africa. Many, like the majestic Sauropelta, had imposing shoulder spikes; a very special English species dubbed Hylaeosaurus was one of the first dinosaurs ever discovered.

4. Its Tongue Was (Theoretically) Quite Muscular.

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If you take a finger and gently press the area above your Adam’s apple, you may feel a solid lump. This is a u-shaped object called the “hyoid bone,” which helps anchor the tongue. These are usually very large in Ankylosaurus’ relatives, suggesting that hefty, flexible tongues inhabited their maws.

5. Ankylosaurus’ Clubbed Tail May Have Shattered Tyrannosaur Bones.

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T. rex shared its habitat with Ankylosaurus, but this giant herbivore wielded a weapon which might have made the “tyrant lizard king” take a few steps back. Interlocking vertebrae encased in worryingly-large osteoderms combined to form an almost tire-sized “club.” In large specimens with well-endowed tails, it’s been estimated that these instruments could “generate sufficient force to break bone during impacts” (however, smaller ankylosaurs likely couldn’t do so).

6. Some of its Relatives Even Had Armored Eyelids.

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Euoplocephalus tutus had specialized osteoderms covering its eyelids, shielding those precious pupils from marauding predators and/or the Three Stooges.

7. Ankylosaurus has been Confusing Artists for Decades.

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At the end of the day, those plates are darn hard to draw. The fact that scientists have spent over half a century re-imagining how they were arranged doesn’t help. Today, well-intentioned artists frequently err by putting a row of conical spikes along Ankylosaurus’ sides. Additionally, that aforementioned club was relatively flat, yet many have given it the shape of a spherical meatball over the years.

8. Ankylosaurus Had Tiny Teeth.

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Despite being the biggest-known ankylosaurid, this creature’s chompers were fairly miniscule. In fact, Ankylosaurus had the smallest teeth relative to its body size of any known member of its family.

Speaking of Ankylosaurus’ pearly whites, what was on the menu? The creature’s muzzle was rather wide and featured a strong beak, suggesting that it fed indiscriminately on low-lying vegetation.

9. Ankylosaurus Made a Big Splash at the 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Sinclair Oil, famous for their green Apatosaurus logo, decided to create a pack of life-sized dinosaur statues as a prehistoric publicity stunt for the event. Since then, this gang (which also included Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, and Stegosaurus) has been scattered across the country, with the original Ankylosaurus eventually settling down at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

10. Ankylosaurus Also Inspired one of Godzilla’s Most Beloved Co-Stars.

Despite having a long snout, hedgehog-like spines, and sharp fangs, the monster called Anguirus was loosely based on Ankylosaurus. First appearing in 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, this pugnacious beast went on to star in half a dozen other films opposite the Big G, becoming a fan favorite en route.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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