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10 Quirky Facts About Manx Cats

A Manx cat looks like your typical feline—that is, until it turns around and you realize it’s missing a tail. Here are 10 facts about the unusual kitty, which hails from an island in the Irish Sea, and its adorably stubby posterior.

1. ITS MISSING TAIL STEMS FROM A GENETIC MUTATION …

Today, the Manx is an international show cat. However, its roots can be traced back to the humble Isle of Man. The remote island sits in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. Hundreds of years ago, a genetic mutation caused one or more kitties on the Isle of Man to be born without a tail. Since the Isle of Man’s feline population is so small, generations of inbreeding caused the trait to become common among the local cats.

Naturally, the Manx is beloved on its native shores. It's been featured on currency, stamps, and company logos, and shops sell merchandise featuring the tailless cat.

2. … BUT MANY CREATIVE LEGENDS CLAIM OTHERWISE.

People once said that the Manx was running late for Noah’s Ark, and Noah slammed the door and severed its tail. Others theorized that Manxes were “cabbits”—the hybrid offspring of a cat and a rabbit—due to their long back legs, short tail, and rounded rump.

3. THE MANX WAS ONE OF THE WORLD’S FIRST SHOW CATS.

Wikimedia Commons//Public Domain

Animal lovers in England began showcasing Manx cats at some of the world’s first cat shows in the late 19th century. When the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA)—the world's largest registry of pedigreed cats—was formed in 1906, the Manx was one of the founding breeds.

4. MANXES CAN GIVE BIRTH TO KITTENS WITH OR WITHOUT TAILS …

Manx cats carry one gene for a full tail, and one for taillessness. This means that two Manx cats can mate and produce a kitten that’s a typical long-tailed feline. Sadly, kittens that inherit the taillessness gene from both parents will likely die before birth. That’s why some people have nicknamed the Manx gene “the lethal gene.”

5. …BUT THEIR TAILS MIGHT BE VARYING LENGTHS.

The Manx gene is an incomplete dominant gene, so kittens that inherit it can be born with full-length tails, stubby tails, or no tails at all—and all of these tail lengths can appear in a single litter.

Due to this variability, Manx cats are classified according to tail lengths. Completely tailless felines are called “rumpy,” whereas cats with short tail stumps that are often curved, knotted, or kinked are known as “stumpy,” and kitties with nearly normal-length tails are called “longy.” Only “rumpies,” or cats called “rumpy risers” that have a slight rise of bone where their tails would start, are eligible to compete in the championship classes in CFA cat shows.

Breeders like to include all four Manx tail types in their breeding programs, since genetic defects are more likely to arise when rumpies are only bred with other rumpies for multiple generations.

6. MANXES COME IN A VARIETY OF SHADES AND PATTERNS.

canong2fan via Flickr// CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

You’ll find Manx cats in hues ranging from red, white, and black to cream, blue, and shaded silver. (The CFA disqualifies against cats with lavender, chocolate, or pointed coloring, since these shades indicate hybridization [PDF].) Typically, a Manx cat's eyes are gold, copper, green, hazel, blue, or odd-eyed.

When it comes to patterns, Manx kitties can be bicolor, tabbies, or tortoiseshells. Some Manx-like cats also have long fur; they're called Cymrics, and most cat fanciers' associations view them as a separate breed.

7. KOKO THE GORILLA LOVED A MANX KITTEN.

Koko, the famous research gorilla that knows more than 1000 words of modified American Sign Language, once owned a Manx cat. In 1984, Koko was allowed to choose a pet kitten from a litter for her 12th birthday present. Koko selected a tailless grey-and-white cat, which she named "All Ball." ("The cat was a Manx and looked like a ball," Ron Cohn, a biologist at the Gorilla Sanctuary, told the LA Times in 1985. "Koko likes to rhyme words in sign language.")

Koko loved All Ball, and cuddled and played with her on a regular basis. Sadly, All Ball was struck by a car later that year and died. A devastated Koko was given a new pet, a red kitty named Lips Lipstick. She later owned a third cat, a gray feline named Smoky; the two animals were companions for nearly 20 years until Smoky died of natural causes.

8. MANX CATS SOMETIMES HAVE HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Like many pedigreed breeds, Manx cats are prone to a set of unique health problems. The mutation responsible for the cat's lack of a tail also affects the development of its spine and spinal cord. As a result, many Manx kitties suffer from a variety of painful symptoms that are collectively referred to as "Manx Syndrome," including spina bifida, a birth defect that prevents the vertebrae from growing around the spinal cord. Other afflictions include incontinence or constipation, an odd stance, a “hopping” walk, a lack of sensation or paralysis in the hind legs, and malformed pelvic or sacral bones. These birth defects can sometimes be fatal.

Be careful picking up your Manx cat, as the nerve endings near where its tail should be are exposed. Also, keep in mind that if you own a “longie” cat that’s five years or older, its tail may ossify and become arthritic.

9. SCIENTISTS WANT TO DECODE THE MANX'S GENOME.

While scientists at the University of Missouri released a rough draft of the cat genome in 2007 and another more complete version in 2014, no one has sequenced the Manx breed. That’s why a group of researchers on the Isle of Man plan to look at the whole genomes of Manx cats and locate breed-specific mutations.

“Sequencing multiple Manx cat genomes has a scientific purpose,” the scientists wrote on their project website. “If we can identify other mutations which are unique to the Manx breed this could possibly lead to diagnostic DNA tests that can be used by breeders to select their cats more appropriately to try and reduce the number of kittens born with Manx Syndrome. The more cats we can sequence the more we can discover!”

The team is currently raising funds for their scientific investigation. They plan to publish results in a peer-reviewed journal, and to submit a copy of the genomes to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

10. THE MANX CAN BALANCE WITHOUT A TAIL.

Since a cat's tail is instrumental for balance, how do Manx cats manage to walk without wobbling? Experts think they have an especially sensitive vestibular apparatus inside their ears to compensate.

Additional Source: The Cat Encyclopedia: The Definitive Visual Guide

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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