CLOSE
Original image
istock

11 Bright Facts About Border Collies

Original image
istock

Border collies are fun, energetic dogs that love problem-solving almost as much as they love people. Learn more about this classic working dog. 

1. Modern border collies can trace their lineage back to one dog. 

Old Hemp (born in 1893) is widely considered to be the progenitor of the border collie. Unlike other dogs of his kind, his herding method was quieter and less aggressive. Despite having a softer technique, his method got results and impressed breeders. Old Hemp became a stud dog and fathered over 200 pups

2. Romans brought sheepdogs to Great Britain.

The Roman Empire was the first civilization to master the art of raising and herding sheep. They brought sheep and shepherds over to the British Isles, where they established a wool industry. Many of the sheepdogs the Romans brought to Britain couldn’t hack it in the cold weather, so the Celtics began breeding their own. These new dogs were smaller and more agile than their predecessors; they were called collies after the ancient Celtic word colley, meaning useful or faithful. 

3. Their name comes from the region in which they flourished. 

Border collies get their name because they were initially bred on the border of Scotland and England. It is believed that James Reid, the secretary of the International Sheepdog Society, coined the name while describing the dogs in letters to colleagues. 

4. They’re furry geniuses. 

Dogs are pretty smart as a species in general, but no breed can beat the border collie in intelligence. The bright pooches were bred to be independent problem solvers capable of solving complex tasks. 

5. But that doesn’t mean training them is easy. 

Because these dogs are so smart, it means they pick up on everything and learn very quickly. This means you need to train them right away before they develop any bad habits, such as barking, nipping, or whining—behaviors many border collies default to when they're bored. Train them young and make sure they're focused on the task at hand, as their attention tends to wander.

6. Collies are the ultimate herding dogs.

Herding dogs like border collies have been specially bred to chase and organize animals. This modified predatory behavior incorporates the beginning of the hunt (stalking, crouching, nipping), but without the killing. Border collies make particularly good herders thanks to their independence and intelligence. The need to herd is so deeply ingrained in these dogs, that some modern owners actually rent sheep for their pets to corral. 

7. Crouching is a technique. 

Border collies can move swiftly in a catlike, crouched position, thanks to a space between the tops of the shoulder blades, which lets the dogs slither by while staying low to the ground. This technique lets them herd animals with extreme precision. 

8. Watch out for "the eye." 

Another trick up the border collie sleeve is the “the eye.” This intense stare intimidates the livestock and helps the dogs herd and control the animals. You may catch your dog giving you this look when you have something delicious in your hand. 

9. One has a big vocabulary.

Chaser the border collie is often called the smartest dog in the world. She has been working with John Pilley, a professor of psychology, to learn an impressive number of English words since she was two months old. Chaser first learned that specific toys had different names when she was just five months. Since then, Chaser has slowly amassed an arsenal of words, and has the cognition and development of a toddler. 

The clever pooch shows off her smarts by bringing specific items when asked. Even more impressive, she understands that items have a unique proper name (like Franklin), and then a more general common noun name (like toy). She knows the proper noun names of her 1000 unique toys. 

10. Another holds a more unusual world record 

A talented border collie named Striker holds the record for Fastest Car Window Opened by a Dog. The canine rolled down the non-electric car window in 11.34 seconds.

11. Staying active is a must. 

Don’t expect to lay around the house with this dog. The smarter the breed, the easier it is for it to get bored when left with no stimulation. Border collies are working dogs and enjoy having tasks to keep them busy throughout the day; the high-energy dog needs to redirect its spunk or else it will misbehave.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES