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50 Incredible Animal Facts You'll Want to Share

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Arm yourself with trivia from the animal kingdom.

1. TRAINED PIGEONS CAN TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE PAINTINGS OF PABLO PICASSO AND CLAUDE MONET.

2. THE PEACOCK MANTIS SHRIMP CAN THROW A PUNCH AT 50 MPH, ACCELERATING QUICKER THAN A .22-CALIBER BULLET.

3. STUDIES HAVE SHOWN THAT WILD CHIMPS IN GUINEA DRINK FERMENTED PALM SAP, WHICH CONTAINS ABOUT 3 PERCENT ALCOHOL BY VOLUME.

4. THE CHEVROTAIN IS AN ANIMAL THAT LOOKS LIKE A TINY DEER WITH FANGS. 

5. CAPUCHIN MONKEYS PEE ON THEIR HANDS TO WASH THEIR FEET.

6. ONLY THE MALES ARE CALLED PEACOCKS. FEMALES ARE CALLED PEAHENS.

7. DRAGONFLIES AND DAMSELFLIES FORM A HEART WITH THEIR TAILS WHEN THEY MATE.

8. BABY ELEPHANTS SUCK THEIR TRUNKS FOR COMFORT.

9. TIGERS HAVE STRIPED SKIN AS WELL. EACH PATTERN IS AS UNIQUE AS A FINGERPRINT.

10. THERE WAS ONCE A TYPE OF CROCODILE THAT COULD GALLOP.

11. A GRIZZLY BEAR'S BITE IS STRONG ENOUGH TO CRUSH A BOWLING BALL.

12. SEA OTTERS HOLD HANDS WHILE THEY'RE SLEEPING SO THEY DON'T DRIFT APART.

13. PRAIRIE DOGS SAY HELLO BY KISSING.

14. ANIMAL BEHAVIORISTS HAVE CONCLUDED THAT CATS DON'T MEOW AS A WAY TO COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER. IT'S A METHOD THEY USE FOR GETTING ATTENTION FROM HUMANS.

15. DESPITE THEIR APPEARANCE, ELEPHANT SHREWS ARE MORE CLOSELY RELATED TO ELEPHANTS THAN SHREWS.

16. FLAMINGOS ARE NATURALLY WHITE—THEIR DIET OF BRINE SHRIMP AND ALGAE TURNS THEM PINK.

17. ALBERTA, CANADA IS THE LARGEST RAT-FREE POPULATED AREA IN THE WORLD.

18. RED-EYED TREE FROG EGGS CAN HATCH EARLY IF THEY SENSE DANGER.

19. WHITETAIL DEER CAN SPRINT AT SPEEDS UP TO 30 MILES PER HOUR.

20. BLUE JAYS MIMIC HAWKS' CALLS TO SCARE AWAY OTHER BIRDS.

21. IN THE UK, THE BRITISH MONARCH LEGALLY OWNS ALL UNMARKED MUTE SWANS IN OPEN WATER.

22. ALL CLOWNFISH ARE BORN MALE—SOME TURN FEMALE TO ENABLE MATING.

23. MORAY EELS HAVE A SECOND SET OF JAWS THAT EXTENDS FROM THEIR THROATS.

24. THE AXOLOTL CAN REGENERATE ITS LIMBS.

25. HARTEBEEST EVADE PREDATORS BY RUNNING IN ZIGZAG PATTERNS.

26. ANTEATERS DON’T HAVE TEETH.

27. FRUIT BATS DON'T USE ECHOLOCATION—THEY HAVE EXCELLENT SENSES OF SIGHT AND SMELL.

28. MALE RING-TAILED LEMURS WILL "STINK FIGHT" BY WAFTING SCENT AT EACH OTHER.

29. LYNX HAVE LARGE FEET THAT ENABLE THEM TO RUN ON VERY DEEP SNOW.

30. IN 1924, A LABRADOR RETRIEVER WAS SENTENCED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE AT EASTERN STATE PENITENTIARY FOR KILLING THE GOVERNOR'S CAT.

31. IN AN AQUATIC TRAFFIC JAM, ALLIGATORS WILL GIVE MANATEES THE RIGHT OF WAY.

32. NINE-BANDED ARMADILLOS ALWAYS GIVE BIRTH TO IDENTICAL QUADRUPLETS.

33. CATS CAN'T TASTE SUGAR. THEY DON'T HAVE SWEET TASTE BUDS.

34. DUCKS LIKE TO SURF. THEY HAVE BEEN OBSERVED RIDING TIDES AND SWIMMING BACK TO RIDE THEM AGAIN.

35. THE AFRICAN PENGUIN IS ALSO COMMONLY REFERRED TO AS THE "JACKASS PENGUIN" BECAUSE IT MAKES DONKEY-LIKE BRAYING SOUNDS.

36. BIRDS ARE IMMUNE TO THE HEAT OF CHILI PEPPERS.

37. HONEYBEES CAN GET SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASES.

38. A NARWHAL TUSK IS ACTUALLY AN EXAGGERATED FRONT LEFT TOOTH, AND UNLIKE MOST TEETH, IT'S SOFT AND SENSITIVE ON THE OUTSIDE WITH A TOUGH INTERIOR.

39. CARIBBEAN SPERM WHALES HAVE THEIR OWN REGIONAL ACCENT.

40. WOMBAT POOP IS CUBE-SHAPED.

41. A BABY PUFFIN IS CALLED A PUFFLING.

42. BALD EAGLES SOUND SO SILLY THAT HOLLYWOOD DUBS THEIR VOICES.

43. ACCORDING TO TIME, THE ANNUAL NUMBER OF WORLDWIDE SHARK BITES IS 10 TIMES LESS THAN THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE BITTEN BY OTHER PEOPLE IN NEW YORK.

44. FEMALE BATS GIVE BIRTH WHILE HANGING UPSIDE DOWN, CATCHING THE BABY IN THEIR WINGS AS IT DROPS.

45. TOUCANS CURL INTO LITTLE BALLS WHEN THEY SLEEP.

46. HORSES ARE DISTANTLY RELATED TO RHINOCEROSES AND TAPIRS.

47. SOME CATS ARE ALLERGIC TO HUMANS.

48. DESPITE THEIR LACK OF VISIBLE EARS, PENGUINS HAVE EXCELLENT HEARING.

49. LIONS INHABITED MANY AREAS OF EUROPE UNTIL THEY WERE HUNTED TO EXTINCTION IN THE REGION AROUND 100 BCE.

50. MALE PLATYPUSES HAVE VENOMOUS SPURS.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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