Original image

9 Fluffy Facts About the Shih Tzu

Original image

The shih tzu, known for its humorous-sounding name (the real pronunciation is actually “sheed-zoo,” thank you very much), has a lot to offer. Loyal service dogs and loving companions, these small dogs are an ideal fit for anyone in need of affection. Learn more about the pooch and its long history of melting hearts. 


Nobody knows exactly how old the shih tzu is, although it existed at least as far back as 624 CE (we know this because of its presence in art from the era). As with most ancient breeds, it’s difficult to determine when and how exactly it originated, though experts have some ideas. According to one popular theory, the breed was started in Tibet by Buddhist monks and eventually made its way to China. 

Back then, Tibetan monks bred a number of lion-like dogs, which they referred to as “holy dogs.” (Since the time of early Buddhism, the lion has been an important religious symbol, representing the Bodhisattvas, or "sons of the Buddha.") According to some accounts, the Dalai Lama came to China in the 17th century with a trio of lion-like pooches. These shih tzu predecessors were bred with Chinese dogs, resulting in pups with shorter snouts. 

In the early 20th century, the Chinese empress Tzu-hsi was gifted a pair of Tibetan lion dogs. She was immediately enamored, and kept them from breeding with the Pekingese and pugs in her care. The result: the shih tzus we know and love today.


They may not look like it, but the modest shih tzu is more closely related to wolves than many fiercer-looking breeds. In 2004, researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle tested the genetic data of 414 dogs from 85 different breeds. They concluded that Asian breeds, from the imposing akita all the way down to the diminuitive Pekingese, are some of the oldest and most closely related to Canis lupus familiaris's wolf ancestors. (Only the Nordic breeds have these dogs beat: The Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, and Samoyed, among others, are the "best living representative[s] of the ancestral dog gene pool," the researchers wrote.)


Despite their genetic similarities to wolves, shih tzus were bred to be loving companions. The pampered pets led luxurious lives in palaces, enjoying all the creature comforts a dog could want. Their thick coats made them effective radiators, and their owners would use the dogs to keep their beds warm. At one time, it was even fashionable to keep the small canines tucked away in large robe sleeves. 


For such a small dog, the shih tzu has a long list of nicknames. Shih tzu roughly translates to little lion dog. Other monikers include "under-the-table dog," "Fu dog," "shock dog," "sleeve dog," "Tibetan poodle," and more. They are sometimes referred to as the chrysanthemum-faced dog thanks to their unique facial fur, which fans out like flower petals. 


As with other Chinese dog breeds, the shih tzu was nearly wiped out when the Communist party began its takeover. Luckily for shih tzu lovers, some dedicated fanciers protected the breed and seven males and seven females survived. Those 14 dogs were responsible for rebuilding the entire line. 


The hair of a shih tzu is truly something to envy. Show dogs can be seen sporting stylish long hair that drags on the floor like a dress's train. This particular hairstyle is very hard to keep up, so most shih tzu owners opt to keep their dog’s hair in a short style called the “puppy cut.” Usually this involves cutting the hair uniformly about two inches from the body (this is also referred to as the "teddy bear cut," because it makes them look like a plush toy). Other owners opt to shave the body hair closely, leaving the hair on the head and ears in a bob-like style (this is known as the "top knot cut.") If neither of these options appeal to you, you can always book an appointment with this groomer in Taiwan, who will cut your dog’s hair into a perfect circle or square. 


According to the American Kennel Club, the shih tzu comes in 14 different colors and three different markings. 


Most shih tzus rock a little white spot on their foreheads, which is affectionately known as the “Star of Buddha.” According to legend, Buddha was traveling with a little canine companion that closely resembled the shih tzu. When a group of robbers tried to attack Buddha, the little dog transformed into a fierce lion and chased the thieves off.  Buddha was so grateful he kissed the dog on the forehead, giving it its little white mark. The markings on its back are said to represent the saddle Buddha used to ride the dog-turned-lion. 


Before you get a shih tzu, consider how much free time you have. The little dogs are notoriously difficult to train and it takes a lot of patience to housebreak them. In fact, it can take around 40 to 50 repetitions of a bathroom routine before the stubborn pup catches on. Owners are urged to start training immediately at puppyhood so irreversible bad habits don’t form.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]