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10 Clawed Facts About Therizinosaurus

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If T. rex is the Citizen Kane of dinosaurs, Therizinosaurus and its kin are The Rocky Horror Picture Show: They’re strange-looking, slightly threatening, and command a dedicated fan base. Here’s some trivia guaranteed to impress your fossil-loving amigos.

1. Therizinosaurus Had the Longest Claws of Any Known Animal

The humongous claws on this dino’s hands were capable of reaching well over two feet in length. Appropriately, its name literally means “scythe lizard.”

2. Despite This, it Was (Probably) An Herbivore

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With fingers that seemingly belong in a slasher flick, you’d think these creatures were designed to slice and dice hapless victims. But most of its relatives had small, leaf-shaped teeth built to munch on foliage. (Scientists have yet to uncover a Therizinosaurus skull.) So what’s with those frightening digits? The theory is that, come mealtime, they might have helped the dinos pull down lush tree branches. For a cooler explanation, skip ahead to bullet point number nine.

3. Therizinosaurus Was Originally Mistaken for a Huge, Turtle-Like Reptile.

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In 1954, Russian paleontologist Evgeny Aleksandrovich Malayev concluded that the beast basically resembled a modern sea turtle. He wrote that its distinctive forelimbs were in fact “powerful swimming organs” with claws designed for “cutting aquatic vegetation.”

4. It’s Part of a Formerly-Baffling Family.

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When it became clear that these things were actually dinosaurs, scientists didn’t initially know how to classify the eccentric Therizinosaurids. Could they be related to the gigantic, long-necked sauropods like Jurassic Park’s Brachiosaurus? Or did they belong to the "bird-hipped" order of dinosaurs along with Stegosaurus and Triceratops?

Despite their plant-guzzling habits, closer examination revealed that therizinosaurs hailed from a group known as theropods, the vast majority of which (Tyrannosaurus, Velociraptor, etc.) were carnivores. Strange as this might sound, today’s pandas (which only occasionally eat meat) are similarly considered members of the mammalian "carnivora" order.

5. Some Therizinosaurs Were Covered in Feathers.

Danny Cicchetti

China’s Beipiaosaurus had multiple layers of primitive feathers, as seen in some beautifully-preserved fossils. Given its limb proportions, Beipiaosaurus definitely didn’t fly, so this plumage likely served to keep it warm and attract the opposite sex.

6. A Nest of Therizinosaur Eggs Was Found in 2013.

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After locating 17 clutches of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, Hokkaido University’s Yoshitsugu Kobayashi concluded that they’d been laid by indigenous therizinosaurs, a few bony remains of which had been unearthed nearby. If true, this would imply that the animals were somewhat social (at least, come nesting season).

7. Therizinosaurs Had Weird Feet.

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Ever the nonconformists, therizinosaur feet rested on four toes while standing and walking. Most theropods, meanwhile, only used three.

8. Therizinosaurus Was One Hefty Dino.

Scott Hartman

Let’s return to Therizinosaurus itself, shall we? The red areas in the above picture represent all of its presently-known skeletal material (the rest has yet to be found). Based on these partial remains, scientists have ascertained that the critter’s total length was somewhere in the ballpark of 10 meters (33 feet) while it could’ve weighed upwards of 5 tons. Not too shabby…

9. Therizinosaurus Had to Cope With a Huge T. rex Cousin.

Tarbosaurus bataar and Tyrannosaurus rex are so similar that they may have belonged to the same genus (though most experts disregard that idea). The former predator occupied Therizinosaurus’ Mongolian range roughly 70 million years ago, making this herbivore’s fearsome claws look all the more necessary. Here’s a cool (Greek language) clip from 2002’s Chased by Dinosaurs documentary in which these natural enemies spectacularly square off.

10. There’s a Life-Sized Therizinosaurus Statue in Poland.

Alina Zienowicz

Jurapark, located in the village of Bałtów, contains dozens of full-scale dinosaur models, including Allosaurus, Diplodocus, and the world-famous Iguanodon.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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]