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6 Ways to Decorate Easter Eggs

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Decorating eggs is a custom that dates back before what we know as Easter was ever celebrated. Eggs are a symbol of spring, renewal, and fertility for many cultures. And sometimes they are works of art.

1. Pysanky Eggs

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Pysanky eggs are an example of Ukrainian folk art. They are decorated in nature motifs using a batik method. The designs are drawn in negative with wax, and colors are built up using successive dye immersions. The wax design is changed as different colors of dye are used. The results can be quite elaborate. Here's a tutorial on making Pysanky eggs. (image credit: Luba Petrusha)

2. Carved Emu Eggs

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Emu eggs can be carved to reveal layers of color. The eggs have shells that are dark on the outside, and have successively lighter layers inside. Gary LeMaster carves intricate scenes on emu eggs, like this panda. There are several different methods of carving reliefs on emu eggs; here are instructions for one.

More beautiful eggs, after the jump.

3. Fabergé Eggs

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In 1885, Tsar Alexander II of Russia commissioned Jeweler Carl Fabergé to produce an Easter egg as a special surprise for his wife. The gold and jewel-encrusted egg opened to reveal layers of golden figures, each inside another, like matryoshka nesting dolls. Empress Maria was so delighted with the gift that the Tsar wanted another egg every year. Tsar Nicholas II cjewelegg2.jpgontinued the tradition after his father died. Fabergé produced beautiful eggs until the revolution in 1917. There were only 69 Fabergé eggs made, fifty of which went to the Tsar's family. 61 of the eggs are accounted for today. You can find pictures and information on individual eggs at Mieks Fabergé Eggs.

People often use the term "Fabergé egg" to refer to reproductions or Fabergé-style eggs. Although Fabergé didn't use real eggs, and you probably can't use gold and gemstones in yours, you can make an elaborate hinged box out of an egg, or decorate them with inexpensive ribbons and beads.

4. Lace Carved Eggs

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These goose eggs were hand carved by Jerry Brazil of the Texas Egg Gallery. The lacy effect highlights the fragility of an empty eggshell. Here's how to get started carving eggs. They warn you from the start, you'll go through a lot of eggs to learn!

5. Natural Dyes

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The simplest way to dye eggs at home is to soak your hard-boiled eggs in a combination of hot water, vinegar, and food coloring. You can be more elaborate if you like. A variation on this method is to use natural dyes in place of food coloring. Beets will make your eggs pink, tumeric will turn them yellow, and somehow red cabbage will dye them blue. The Herb Society of America has instructions.

6. Marble Eggs

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If you want to serve decorated eggs for dinner, try making tea infused marble eggs. This method infuses the color under the shell, using consumable and possibly delicious dyes.

Here are some other tutorials in techniques for decorating eggs. As for my family, we will probably dye a few eggs using the simple food coloring method. But if history is a predictor, we'll eat most of them before they cool off!

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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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May 23, 2017
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