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10 Speedy Facts About Gallimimus

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Why do we love dinosaurs? Obviously, people have their own personal reasons, but Gallimimus may represent the key to understanding how these long-dead animals have become so overwhelmingly popular. Gallimimus—like many fossilized beasts—is a mesmerizing blend of the familiar and the alien. Read on to find out why.

1. It Belongs to a Large Group of Ostrich Copycats.

Called “ornithomimids” by specialists, these long-armed, long-necked, long-legged critters inhabited Asia and North America during the late Cretaceous period (100-65 million years BCE). Gallimimus was among the largest, although some species—as we’ll see—were probably taller than T. rex.

2. Gallimimus Had “Paper-Thin” Jaws.

Thanks to research executed by Norwegian paleontologist Jørn Hurum, we now know that several of the bones in Gallimimus’ beak and lower jaw were only a few millimeters in total thickness.  

3. Its Hands Were Relatively Short.

Ornithomimids are famous for—among other things—their lanky, elongated forelimbs. Yet Gallimimus’ arms, claws, and hands were proportionately short. This possibly means that the animal wasn’t as dexterous as its relatives, some of which likely grabbed tasty tree branches while feeding.

4. Some Ornithomimids Deliberately Swallowed Rocks.

Take 37 seconds out of your busy day and watch this video:

You’ll see a predatory avian busying itself by eating pebbles. What’s going on? Unlike us spoiled mammals, birds can’t chew. Naturally, this makes digestion somewhat difficult. So some feathered foodies help process their meals by swallowing tiny stones, which help mash up chow internally. Fossilized stomach contents indicate that at least a few ornithomimids used this same technique.

5. Gallimimus Posed its Arms Very Differently than We Do.

Can you touch the side of your arm with the side of your pinky finger? Probably not (and if you can, it might be time to seek medical attention). Dinosaurs like Gallimimus had wrists which would have allowed them to ace that little challenge. Like birds, their hands were built for flexing in this awkward direction. However, there’s a trade-off. Go outside and dribble a basketball. Now smirk with the knowledge that Gallimimus could never do this because its wrists were incapable of moving its palms to parallel the ground. Fellow humans, this calls for some gloating!

6. Jurassic Park Animators Got Up and Ran Around Like a Herd of Gallimimus Behind the Scenes.

Over two dozen Gallimimus come racing towards Spielberg’s camera in this thrilling scene from the 1993 mega-blockbuster. To help visualize the sequence, Jurassic Park’s animation team members filmed themselves imitating these frenzied dinos while prancing through a studio parking lot. 

7. Most Ornithomimid Names Aren’t Particularly Imaginative.

Despite looking somewhat emu-like, Gallimimus’ genus name means “chicken mimic.” Its similarly-built cousins Pelicanimimus, Struthiomimus, and Ornithomimus have names which translate to “pelican mimic,” “ostrich mimic,” and “bird mimic,” respectively. 

8. Some Scientists Have Argued that Gallimimus Ate Like A Duck.

Soft tissue isn’t often preserved in fossilized skeletons, but a choice Gallimimus specimen found during the early 2000s gave us a nice look at this dinosaur’s mouth, and comb-like ridges were spotted near its beak. At first, these looked suspiciously similar to the straining mechanisms today’s ducks use while gobbling up small organisms in bodies of water. Gallimimus, it seemed, behaved likewise. However, the structures can also be seen in some herbivorous turtles, creatures which simply bite through foliage instead. 

9. At Least Some Ornithomimids Had Primitive Wings.

The feathered dino club just keeps getting bigger. Ornithomimid skeletons complete with what appear to be enlarged arm feathers have been found in Canada.

10. One of Gallimimus’ (Possible) Relatives Had Terrifyingly-Huge Arms.

Deinocheirus was utterly humongous. A probable ornithomimid, two bodiless arms belonging to this dino were unearthed in Mongolia back in the 1960s. But here’s the scary part: Each one was over 8 feet long! Dinosaur buffs would have to hold out until 2013 before any reasonably-complete skeletons turned up. Thankfully, it was well worth the wait: We now know that the mysterious Deinocheirus had a sail on its back and could reach over 16 feet in height. Universal Pictures seriously needs to consider putting three or four in their upcoming Jurassic Park sequel… 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]