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National Geographic

8 Amazing Animal Photos from National Geographic's Your Shot Community

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National Geographic

For its latest Your Shot assignment, called "The Animals We Love," National Geographic is asking readers to show their passion for the creatures we share the world with. "This assignment is about ... photographing from the heart," Robin Schwartz, Fine Art/Editorial Photographer and curator of the assignment, said in the prompt. "Your approach can range from creating an intimate portrait that communicates the distinct personality of an animal to photographing your observations of an animal within a landscape, on the street, in parks, or in zoos." The assignment wraps up June 23; here are 10 incredible images readers have submitted so far.

1. Baby Elephant


Photo and caption by Julia Cumes, National Geographic Your Shot

"I met this baby elephant while documenting a baby elephant rehabilitation/release program in Assam, India. He had lost his mother in a flood. I spent a lot of time with him and became quite attached. When I finally had to leave, I turned around one more time to look at the building that housed him and saw he had got up on his hind legs and was looking out the window at me. His expression was so strikingly human in that moment and I saw in his eyes something universal and profoundly expressive."

2. The Cat and the Rat


Photo and caption by Meg Kumin, National Geographic Your Shot

"Perhaps our cat Sonic was just too old, or too lazy to care about primal instinct.  Or perhaps, Rosy the Rat was too blind, or too naive to worry about fear.  Or perhaps ... there are no rules when it comes to love within a family."

3. What Does the Fox Say?


Photo and caption by E. Sanchez, National Geographic Your Shot

"I am a big fan of foxes and when I had the chance to rescue a female cub (she is the second one, the other one is male), I could not resist. In this picture she is about 12 weeks old. She is living in the house and when she will be big enough I will move her to the outside cage where the other fox is living. She had three brothers and by now most probably they are not having a good time as she has if they are alive at all.  I know what most people think: she should live in the wild."

4. Cat Carriage

Photo and caption by Juan Fontaine, National Geographic Your Shot

"Cat lover carrying his pets through the Hiroshima streets."

5. Oh, Deer

Photo and caption by Juan Fontaine, National Geographic Your Shot

"In the surroundings of Kyoto you can find the village of Nara. In it, all temples and parks are loaded with wild and free deer. You can touch and feed them. It's amazing the respect and care people here have with both animals and plants.

"In this picture you can see a group of students visiting one of the main temples in the city sharing with the deer as if they were another of their classmates."

6. Holy Cow

Photo and caption by Henrik Kaarsholm, National Geographic Your Shot

"Having a sick cow in the herd affects any farmer deeply and even though this farmer has over 400 head of cattle, he can quickly asses which are sick and bring these out for treatment—he knows every single one, he raised every one of them. To calm his cows during treatment, he sits on it."

7. Bottle-fed Fish

Photo and caption by StÈphanie Amaudruz, National Geographic Your Shot

"In Asia, it is a common sight to see people feed golden fishes like we feed pigeons in Europe—the idea is to create harmonious shapes by throwing food in chosen spots—or to have fun. Babybottle fish feeding is a popular attraction.

8. A Horse is a Horse

Photo and caption by Byron Inggs, National Geographic Your Shot

"On arrival at Jonathan's Lodge in Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho, our horses took to celebrating liberation from their burdens. With the backdrop of 'The Devil's Knuckles' and the afternoon’s glow how could I not take advantage? Up close using Canon's EF 10-22mm wide angle."

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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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