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11 Fierce Facts About the Honey Badger

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You’ve probably heard all kinds of things about the honey badger and wondered, “Are these claims substantiated?” (First and foremost: Is it true that honey badgers don’t care?) Here are a few things we know for sure.

1. THEIR NAME MEANS “HONEY EATER OF THE CAPE.”

Mellivora capensis is the species’ formal name, but you can go ahead and judge a honey badger by its common name. These little monsters love the sweet stuff. “The Cape” is The Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, where many reside (they also call the Middle East and India home). Another one of their names is ratel, which is an Afrikaans word that might be derived from the Dutch word for honeycomb, raat.

2. THEY’RE SKUNK-LIKE.

Aside from their physical similarities, the honey badger also boasts a dangerous gland at the base of its tail containing a stinky liquid. Generally, it’s just used to mark territory, but should the animal find itself in distress, its biological kneejerk is to release a stink bomb—different, but just as rotten as its sister scent-leaver.

3. THEY CAN DIG LIKE CRAZY.

Using their long claws, honey badgers dig burrows to rest in, sometimes on a daily basis. They’ll do it anywhere—in the ground, in a tree trunk, or even into an old termite mound. If needed, they can dig themselves a hiding hole in a matter of minutes and use their natural excavation skills to capture prey underground.

4. BUT THEY’RE LAZY ABOUT HOUSEKEEPING.

If a honey badger isn’t in the mood to make its own bed, it’s not shy about making itself at home in someone else’s residence. The creatures have been known to get comfortable in the dens of aardvarks or in the tunnels of foxes, mongooses, or springhares. (Really any crevice or hole will do for the honey badger.) They’re really good at adapting: The animals are usually diurnal in winter, but where they need to avoid humans, they’re usually nocturnal.

5. THEY’RE MEAN.

It’s true that the honey badger has the Guinness Book of World Records title of "World's Most Fearless Creature," but they’re more than just audacious: they’re downright mean. They’re invasive and eager to pick a fight—even with a porcupine. But that doesn’t mean they’re invincible. Hyenas, lions, leopards and pythons are all foes (as are humans), but if those are considered your only enemies, you’re probably incredibly tough.

6. THEY’LL EAT ANYTHING.

Seriously, anything and everything. They’re omnivores who will go after mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, larvae, plants, fruit, eggs, and roots.

7. THEY’RE THICK-SKINNED.

Literally. There are reports of arrows and spears glancing off their thick, rubbery epidermis, which is also loose enough that, should a honey badger get caught in the mouth of a predator, it can writhe around and break loose. (A second option is to retaliate using its crazy powerful teeth—see number 8.) The honey badger may even have a resistance to snake venom and is sometimes able to sleep off a bite. (Their thick skin comes in handy in this way, too.) Snakes compose a quarter of their diets.

8. THEIR TEETH ARE CRAZY POWERFUL.

They can chomp down with enough force to break the shell of a tortoise.

9. THEY DON'T ACTUALLY PARTNER UP WITH BIRDS TO FIND FOOD.

You might have heard that honey badgers and honeyguide birds have a good partnership going. The honeyguide leads the badger to the hive and then eats up after the honey badger destroys it. Well, after over 200 years of study, we can pretty definitively say that honey badgers don’t care. This behavior has never been reliably seen in the wild, and even playing honeyguide songs elicits no response.

10. THEY’RE SOLITARY WEASELS.

Honey badgers are in the same family as weasels, and just like those prickly beasts, honey badgers are pretty solitary. They keep to themselves and definitely stay out of the public eye, usually only banding together to mate. Babies are the exception: Young kits often stick with their mothers for so long that they can outgrow her.

11. THEY’RE SMART.

Ferocious, fearless, and pugnacious animals aren’t always the smartest, but honey badgers break the mold. They’re so intelligent that they even use tools: Video from Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in South Africa revealed that a team of honey badgers used sticks, a rake, mud, stones, and pure determination in their attempts to escape. You can watch this, and all of Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem, on YouTube. If the Planet of the Apes franchise ever loses steam, it seems like we might have another animal to suggest for a spinoff.

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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