CLOSE
Original image
iStock

10 Fancy Facts About Persian Cats

Original image
iStock

With their trademark round faces, stocky bodies, and sumptuous coats, Persians are one of the most recognized cat breeds in the world. Here are a few facts about the fancy feline. 

1. THEY WERE A TRAVELER'S SOUVENIR. 

Like many breeds, the Persian cat’s origins are a mystery. According to some sources, longhaired cats have existed in the Middle East for thousands of years—although research indicates that the kitties have genetics in common with cats from Western Europe.

Although nobody quite knows when—or how—the rest of the world discovered Persian cats, one popular version is that the luxuriously-furred feline was introduced to Western Europe by an Italian named Pietro della Valle. Della Valle was a famous nobleman who journeyed extensively throughout the Holy Land, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and India. In 1620, della Valle passed through Persia—now known as Iran—and took a liking to the exotic, longhaired gray cats he spotted at a bazaar. He purchased four pairs of them, and brought them home with him to Europe. Of course, sailors, travelers, or merchants might have also carried Persians with them from the Middle East to the Continent.

2. THEY WERE IN THE WORLD'S FIRST CAT SHOW. 

More than 250 years later, Persians took London by storm when the breed was showcased in the world's first organized cat show in 1871 at the Crystal Palace. The day-long exhibition also featured Siamese cats, a Scottish Wild Cat, and Manxes, among other exotic felines. Proving that cats were popular long before the Internet, the event drew more than 20,000 visitors. It also shouldn't surprise anyone that a Persian kitten won "Best in Show." 

3. THEY'RE BELOVED IN AMERICA ... 

Sometime after 1895, Persians were brought to the United States. In 1906, the Cat Fanciers' Association was formed in America, and a Persian was one of the first cats registered. Today, the Persian is one of the most popular cats in the United States.

4. ... AND BY FAMOUS HISTORICAL FIGURES. 

Throughout history, many famous individuals have owned Persian cats. Florence Nightingale had 60 cats in her lifetime, and doted on a large Persian named Mr. Bismarck. Marilyn Monroe owned a white Persian cat named Mitsou. And Raymond Chandler reportedly read the first drafts of his novels to his most discerning critic, a black Persian named Taki. 

5. THEY'RE LOW MAINTENANCE.

Persians might look prissy and aloof, but they’re actually considered to be one of the most low-maintenance—and friendliest—cat breeds.

6. THEY COME IN MANY SIZES, COLORS, AND VARIETIES.

While iconic pop culture Persians are usually white or silver (think the Fancy Feast Cat), the breed comes in a range of colors and shades. From tortoiseshell and calico to orange, grey, and black-and-white, the varieties are plentiful. Other sub-variants of the Persian include toy and teacup sizes, Himalayans—which are a cross between a Persian and a Siamese—and Chinchilla Longhairs, which have pointy noses and black-tipped fur.

7. THEY’RE POP CULTURE ICONS.

Speaking of Mr. Bigglesworth and the Fancy Feast cat, the Persian is perhaps one of the most well-represented breeds in popular culture. James Bond supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofield and his parody alter-ego, Dr. Evil, both love stroking their white, blue-eyed Persians. (Spoiler alert: Mr. Bigglesworth’s lush fur freezes off in a sad—yet hilarious—plot twist.) The 2001 movie Cats & Dogs features a diabolical Persian named Kitty Galore. Also, a species of Pokémon is named after the Persian.

8. THEIR FACES HAVEN’T ALWAYS BEEN—AND AREN’T ALWAYS—FLAT.

After its coat, the Persian’s most distinctive characteristic is its flat face. However, the breed hasn’t always had a squished visage. Persians once had a more pronounced muzzle, but in the 1950s a genetic mutation caused a batch of kittens to be born with scrunched features. Breeders liked the aesthetic, and over the years they used selective breeding to taper down the cat’s silhouette.

Some kitties, called “traditional” or “doll-face” Persians, still look like their pointy-featured ancestors. Others have a “peke-face,” or an “ultra face,” which describes the kind of smushed-in mug the Persian is known for today. The Cat Fanciers' Association views the peke or ultra-faced Persian as the breed’s modern standard [PDF]. However, it comes with a price: Persians with this feature have runny eyes, labored breathing, and often struggle to eat their food.

9. THEY'RE SIMILAR TO TURKISH ANGORAS.

Persians look a lot like Turkish Angoras, which are another breed of fluffy feline that arrived in Europe from the Mediterranean in the 1500s. The two were cross-bred over the years to improve the Persian cat's coat—so much so that the breed nearly went extinct. Turkey set up breeding programs to help save the Angora. Persians have a stockier build, a larger head, rounder eyes, and a slightly longer coat, whereas Turkish Angoras have lithe bodies, pointed ears, and a plume-like tail.

10. THEY’VE BEEN IMMORTALIZED IN ART.

Recently, a 6-by-8.5-foot artwork that’s purported to be the “world’s largest cat painting” sold at auction for more than $820,000. The late 19th-century oil portrait is called My Wife's Lovers, and it once belonged to a wealthy philanthropist who commissioned an artist to paint her vast assortment of Turkish Angoras and Persians. Other popular Persian paintings include White Persian Cat by famous folk artist Warren Kimble and Two White Persian Cats Looking into a Goldfish Bowl by late feline portraitist Arthur Heyer. 

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
iStock
arrow
Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
Original image
iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES