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10 Warm Facts About Huskies

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istock

Siberian huskies are known for their wolfish good looks, but deep down, they're all dog. 

1. Huskies are born to run.

When the semi-nomadic Chukchi people of Siberia had to expand their hunting grounds some 3000 years ago, they sought to breed the ideal sled dog. These dogs had to have endurance, a high tolerance to cold, and the ability to survive on very little food. The resulting pups could carry loads over long distances without food or warmth. While there is controversy as to how pure the lineage is, Siberian huskies are widely believed to be the closest to the original Chukchi dogs.

2. Their skills impressed Alaskans.

Huskies made their American debut at the second year of the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race in 1909. Rumor had it that these canines were superior sled dogs; they proved the gossip true by dominating the racing competitions in Alaska for the following decade.

3. A lot of features help keep them warm.

Huskies have a thick double coat that keeps them well insulated. Their undercoat is short and warm, while the overcoat is long and water-resistant. Their almond-shaped eyes allow them to squint to keep out snow. Huskies will wrap their tails around their faces while they sleep; their breath warms the tail and keeps the nose and face protected from the cold.

4. A group saved a small town in Alaska.

In 1925, the children of Nome came down with the widely feared disease called diphtheria. The closest anti-toxin was 1000 miles away in a hospital in Anchorage. The train could only take the medicine so far, and it was up to mushers with teams of sled dogs to transport the package the remaining 674 miles.

Twenty mushers and their sled dogs battled the bitter cold in a relay to get the medicine there safely. It took 127.5 hours to complete the mission, but the medicine made it to the village. The final leg was completed by a black Siberian husky and his team. When finally reaching their destination, the dogs were hailed as heroes and appeared in newspapers across the country.

If this story sounds familiar, you might remember it from the animated movie, Balto. You can see a statue of Balto in New York's Central Park (the real Balto is stuffed and mounted at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History). 

5. They’re not great watchdogs.

Huskies are not one-person dogs—they're unsuspicious and friendly to strangers. This can be charming, but it's not very helpful when you’re looking for a canine sentry. Of course, their fierce wolf-like features might be enough to deter any intruders.

6. Huskies don’t get fatigued.

Huskies often run long distances on very little food. When humans attempt this, we start to use our body’s glycogen and fat and eventually get fatigued. But huskies burn a lot of calories without ever tapping into these other energy stores—and they do this by regulating their metabolism.

“Before the race, the dogs’ metabolic makeup is similar to humans. Then suddenly they throw a switch—we don’t know what it is yet—that reverses all of that,” animal exercise researcher Dr. Michael S. Davis told the New York Times. “In a 24-hour period, they go back to the same type of metabolic baseline you see in resting subjects. But it’s while they are running 100 miles a day.”

7. You need to watch them closely.

These pups love to run and explore. They're known to be escape artists and are capable of digging under fences and slipping out of leashes.

8. The army used them.

During WWII, the army employed the pups as search and rescue dogs. They were also used for transportation, freighting, and communication.

9. They’re closely related to wolves.

Studies say that the shiba inu and the chow chow share the most DNA with the grey wolf. Coming in near the top is the Siberian husky. That said, huskies are domesticated dogs and have evolved separately from their wild cousins for thousands of years.

10. Blue eyes make them distinct.

Not many dog breeds can boast piercing blue eyes. Some dogs—like the Australian shepherd or Weimaraner—have them thanks to the merle gene, which results in the loss of pigmentation. But huskies can have bright eyes without that gene.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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© Nintendo
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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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