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7 Strange Museums Preserving British Heritage

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Last week, The Independent ran a cheeky photo series on things that make Britain great "“ like blankets, Wimpy Burgers, and pigeons. The series, which was primarily lifted from a forthcoming book called We're British, Innit by Iain Aitch, did not mention Marmite, which seems a shame, because it is so singularly British, not to mention brown. But the book did mention corner shops, which also seems a shame, because where in the world aren't there corner shops? In any case, the exercise in ironic self-appraisement got me thinking about a few of the other testaments to British heritage and identity, namely the museums. And while they're certainly not as outré, perhaps, as "dogging" (you may want to be careful in looking this one up), or as prosaic as a Thermos, there are definitely some weird ones out there.

1. The British Lawnmower Museum, Southport

Its tagline is "It's Mower Interesting." What more could you possibly want from a lawnmower museum? People in this country absolutely love their gardens and their lawns, so a lawnmower museum is the natural extension of that love and, dare we say it, obsession. This particular museum not only repairs vintage machines and includes exhibits from the time before lawnmowers, but it also houses the world's largest collection of toy lawnmowers.

2. The Leeds Castle Dog Collar Museum

Another thing that British people really like? Dogs. However, this particular museum isn't devoted to dogs, rather, dog fashions: It houses Britain's only collection of dog collars, featuring more than 100 collars and spanning centuries.

3. The Foundling Museum

Orphans have long been the subject of romantic books, movies, and stories, so much so that without them, the Disney franchise could never have achieved the world domination it now enjoys (from Cinderella and Snow White to Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Disney's been dealing in orphans since time began). So it's only fitting that here in London, where orphans really first made a name for themselves through the works of Charles Dickens, that they get a museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of the Foundling Hospital, London's first home for orphans and abandoned children, opened in 1739, and to the many children who passed through its doors.

4. The Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool


A maritime museum is certainly not in the least bit strange, and can be a fascinating exploration of seafaring history. But this particular museum also houses the "Seized! Revenue and Customs Uncovered" collection, a sort of sub-museum entirely devoted to the weird stuff that people have used to try to get drugs and exotic animals through customs. Like garden gnomes.

5. The British Optical Association Museum

What could be more fun on vacation than models of eye disease? Absolutely nothing. This particular collection houses eyewear from centuries past, from pince-nez to opera glasses, goggles to contact lenses, as well as the aforementioned models of eye disease. It's open by appointment only, so if you're an ocular enthusiast, bear that in mind.

6. Pollock's Toy Museum

toy-museum.jpgLocated in two adjoined 18th century buildings, this museum houses a collection of Victorian and later era toys, including miniature printed theatres, which were very popular back in the days before television and with the budding drama student. While a museum dedicated to toys, specifically Victorian toys, isn't so weird, there's something undeniably creepy about the hordes of dolls and teddies, with their dead glassy eyes and distant, stoic expressions. Because they obviously come to life in the night to have tea parties and whisper homicidal thoughts into your ear.

7. Museum of Witchcraft, Cornwall

dagger-doll.jpgIt's a bit like Salem, Mass., but with fewer wax sculptures, tarot card readers and Neopagan "witches." The Museum of Witchcraft was opened in 1951 by one Cecil Williamson, a man who had had a long and fruitful relationship with witchcraft. Whilst in his youth, he saved a young witch from some local thugs; she, in turn, taught him a few things about the mystical arts. Later, while at prep school, Cecil again made friends with the local witch, who taught him a few spells that he used effectively against some school bullies. According to his biography on the museum's website, he was later in life approached by the MI6 to work as an undercover agent gathering information on the occult interests of head Nazi personnel during World War II. And that was just the beginning. The Museum, which Cecil started and owned until 1996, shortly before his death at age 90, features some fascinating exhibits, including a voodoo type doll that has "real pubic hair sewn into it" and bears a dagger in its abdomen, a wooden witch mirror, and a ceramic figurine of Mother Goose riding a broom. And remember, this museum comes with a warning: "People with Children of a sensitive disposition are warned that some of the exhibits are controversial."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]