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10 Thundering Facts About Apatosaurus

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Apatosaurus suffers from an identity crisis of epic proportions. Even today, many people only know this amazing animal as the Brontosaurus, a name that was discarded 111 years ago. Really, it’s a shame. The real Apatosaurus deserves way more respect for what it was as opposed to what it wasn’t.  

1. Scientifically, There’s No Such Thing as a Brontosaurus (But Apatosaurus is Legit)

While exploring Wyoming in 1879, a field crew organized by fossil hunter Othneil Charles Marsh found an impressive dino skeleton which he called Brontosaurus, or “Thunder Lizard.”

Fast forward to 1903. Paleontologist Elmer Riggs discovered that Brontosaurus was really a new species of Apatosaurus (“Deceptive Lizard”), another dinosaur Marsh’s men had discovered. Because the name Apatosaurus was older, it earned seniority, and Brontosaurus officially became an invalid genus.

2. Apatosaurus Was Accidentally Given the Wrong Head

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Headless dinos rarely attract tourists. Though Marsh’s original Apatosaurus/Brontosaurus specimen was missing its skull, he believed the creature had a rounded noggin. So museum curators started giving their Apatosaurus mounts artificial heads modeled after a blunt-skulled creature called Camarasaurus. Apatosaurus’ true head (pictured directly above) wouldn’t be identified until the 1970s.

3. Apatosaurus Was Fairly Heavyset

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“I’m not fat; I’m just big-boned!” Despite being shorter in length than Diplodocus and Barosaurus—two close relatives that shared its habitat—Apatosaurus had a much beefier skeleton and probably outweighed them.

4. A Long-Standing Myth Claims That Apatosaurus Lived in Swamps

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News flash: Sauropods (“long-necked dinosaurs”) could get awfully big. In fact, some scientists briefly wondered if these beasties were too massive to walk about on dry land. Perhaps, it was suggested, they had to wallow in swamps and marshes to avoid collapsing under their own body mass. Today, there’s no reason to support this idea (fossilized track ways prove that sauropods could manage just fine terrestrially), but many keep buying into it anyway. 

5. Apatosaurus Had a Weird Neck

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This thing’s downright baffling! Apatosaurus, like many reptiles, had large, dangling structures called “cervical ribs” connected to its neck vertebrae. But in this particular dino, they’re abnormally massive—and nobody knows why.  

6. It Lived with a Rogue’s Gallery of Predators

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One hundred and fifty million years ago, the American west was a pretty wild place. Local carnivores included the 20-foot Ceratosaurus, the 28-foot Allosaurus, and the 30-foot Torvosaurus. As if this weren’t bad enough, smaller predatory dinos like Tanycolagreus, Marshosaurus, and Coelurus were also kicking around. Sheesh…

7. The British Successfully Cloned an Apatosaurus … According to Internet Pranksters

Facebook recently gave everyone a big dose of face-palm fuel when users started denouncing Steven Spielberg en masse for supposedly killing a Triceratops. This wasn’t the first major dinosaur hoax of 2014. Here’s an actual excerpt from a sham article that went viral last March:  

Scientists at Liverpool’s John Moore University have successfully cloned a dinosaur, a spokesman from the university said today. The dinosaur, a baby Apatosaurus nicknamed "Spot" is currently being incubated at the University’s college of Veterinary Medicine.

The author(s) even included a picture… of a hairless baby kangaroo.

8. Apatosaurus Inspired one of the World’s First Cartoon Characters

Hand-drawn icons from Mickey Mouse to Homer Simpson owe a lot to an Apatosaurus named Gertie. Initially, the heroes and villains in animated cartoons were mere transplants from pre-existing comic strips. But 1914’s “Gertie the Dinosaur”—conceived by vaudevillian Winsor McCay—featured one of the first original characters created specifically for this exciting new medium.  

9. Apatosaurus Might Have Been Even Bigger Than We Imagined…  

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Last week, a team led by the Museum of Western Colorado finished unearthing a record-shattering Apatosaurus femur. At roughly 6 feet 6 inches long, this magnificent specimen indicates that Apatosaurus could have potentially reached over 80 feet in total length—noticeably longer than previous estimates had suggested.

10. A Vocal Scientific Minority Thinks Brontosaurus Should be Resurrected

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There’s one tiny glimmer of hope for all the Bronto fans out there. When the name was demoted, the animal it belonged to was re-dubbed Apatosaurus excelsus. Yet, a few paleontologists now argue that A. excelsus is different-looking enough from the other known Apatosaurus species (A. ajax, A. louisae, and A. parvus) to deserve its own genus. Brontosaurus would therefore be restored after a hiatus that’s lasted since the Teddy Roosevelt administration.

Granted, there’s little chance of this actually happening. The vast majority of paleontologists favor keeping A. excelsus right where it is classification-wise. Unless some conclusive evidence against this status quo turns up, that’ll likely never change. Still, perhaps “Brontosaurus” might make a thundering comeback after all…

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.