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11 Museums Devoted to Everyday Objects

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Who says you can't celebrate the mundane? These 11 museums are dedicated to items you use but probably never think about.

1. Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

The porcelain throne has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and thanks to a socially-conscious sanitation consultant in New Delhi, India, you can learn about the evolution of the toilet and its impact on public health around the globe. Though it is unquestionably strange, the Sulabh Toilet Museum isn't so much a useless oddity as it is a hygiene technology warehouse; the founder, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, says one of the museum's objectives is to "help sanitation experts learn from the past and solve problems in the sanitation sector."

2. The Pencil Museum

Photo: Kaptain Kobold on Flickr

Keswick, Cumberland is home to the Cumberland Pencil Company, producer of Derwent colored art pencils and a number of other pencil-art-related products. The Pencil Museum houses the world's longest colored pencil (a yellow one) and is the home of the "world's first pencil." The claim is based on a local legend of a vein of graphite discovered under a fallen tree; the "strange black material" was used to mark sheep and eventually inspired the development of lead pencils and the formation of the UK's first pencil factory in 1832. In addition to showcasing the history of everyone's most-misplaced item (aside from car keys, probably), the museum offers art workshops and family events year-round.

3. Sidon Soap Museum

Photo: Wikimedia Commons; Photographed by BlingBling10

The Soap Museum in Saida, Lebanon, was once a factory and is now a chronological history of soap-making dating back to the 14th century, including the tools and processes from raw ingredients to final product. Displays range from simple urns and bowls to modern manufacturing equipment to molded and packaged soaps, and the tour wraps up with a look at the factory's role in improving local hygiene and a guide to the Hammam.

4. Lock Museum of America

Located in Terryville, Connecticut, the Lock Museum of America is built near the site of the Eagle Lock Company, which was founded in 1854. Items on display include thousands of door locks, a room devoted to bank and vault locks, doorknobs and, of course, keys to open everything. The pièce de résistance is a 4000-year-old Egyptian tumbler pin lock.

5. Zhang Xiao Quan Scissors Museum

The museum, located inside the Hangzhou Zhang Xiao Quan Scissors Factory, is home to more than 1500 scissors from all over the world, as well as scissor-making tools, art made from scissors, and calligraphy. You can also tour the factory and watch as blades are placed one by one on machines that affix them to their handles.

6. Lumina Domestica Lamp Museum

Interior lighting is nice to have, though we mostly don't think about it. Lumina Domestica wants to change that, and with its collection of 6500-plus interior lamps dating from prehistory to IKEA, it clearly surpasses any other museum in this goal. Included: torches, oil lamps, incandescents and LEDs.

7. Frank and Jane Clement Brick Museum

Believe it or not, bricks have a fascinating history and the market for rare "brand" bricks is better than you might expect. The Clements' in-home brick museum in Orchard Park, NY, is home to thousands of such bricks, including a front drive and back patio built exclusively of collectible pieces. Viewing is by appointment only, so make sure to call ahead.

8. The Lee Maxwell Washing Machine Museum

Lee Maxwell is a washing machine enthusiast. His collection of antique-to-retro washtubs includes thousands of models, which you can look at in Eaton, CO, if you make an appointment first. If washing machine history is kind of your thing, Maxwell has a book, as well. Popular pieces are early Maytags and 1920s steam laundries.

9. The Bottle and Can Opener Museum

There is very little information about the Bottle and Can Opener Museum, but it does claim to be the only museum dedicated to this particular type of item, so it may well be worth a trip to Kibbutz Misgav Am, Israel, if you're a collector or bottle-opener enthusiast.

10. Haarundkamm Museum

The Haircomb Museum in Mümliswil, Switzerland, celebrates ornamental haircombs as well as eyelash, eyebrow, beard and mustache combs, and even lice combs. In addition to the many thousands of items in the museum's possession, visitors can learn all about the manufacture of combs and the invention's impact on grooming habits through history.

11. Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design

If you like to keep all of your everyday objects in one place, but are tired of looking at the ones you have at home, consider a trip to Waitsfield, Vermont, home of the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design. The items here are old and used, and you've probably seen almost all of them before. But the fact that we know and love these objects speaks to the museum's mission: celebrating good design in mass-produced products. From eggbeaters to shoes to cars to toasters, the Madsonian's mundane objets d'art are on display to make us think. As director David Sellers says, "By making the everyday beautiful and well designed, and by recognizing and valuing that effort, we can reduce our throw-away culture and become one that surrounds ourselves with beauty, thoughtfulness and art."

Have you been to any of these or do you know of a museum that should be on this list? Let us know!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]