CLOSE
Original image

Ten Tiny Treasures: Artists and Their Miniatures

Original image

Art of all kinds gives us pleasure, but when it is scaled down to miniscule sizes, it impresses us with the increased difficulty factor. Besides that, tiny artworks are more accessible and downright cute!

1. Microchip Paintings

Kansas artist Yuri Zupancic doesn't limit his work to miniatures, but his paintings on microchips make a statement of merging artistic efforts with modern technology. The painting pictured is one inch square!

2. Urban Sculptures

New York artist Alan Wolfson creates miniature scenes of complete buildings or even city blocks that evoke the feeling of their real-life inspirations, most of them without copying any actual place. The miniature pictured, Follies Burlesk, is from 1987 and was inspired by an old photograph of Times Square in the 1950s.

3. Parallel Worlds

Ji Lee is a New York artist by way of South Korea and Brazil. He created miniature rooms of furniture and installed them on ceilings for his project Parallel World. Lee's scenes include an art gallery, a tiny living room, a little office space, and one that includes R2D2 and a hippo!

4. Frida Kahlo Dollhouse

Cuban-American artist Elsa Mora created this lovely miniature dollhouse featuring artist Frida Kahlo. You can see pictures of the details, as well as a similar work called Frida Kahlo’s Studio and other dollhouse projects in her dollhouse gallery.

5. Working Weapons

French engineer and craftsman Michel Lefaivre makes working weapons in miniscule sizes. When Lefaivre retired in 2000, he combined his fascination with miniatures with his experience in the arms industry. This miniature 1916 Navy Luger is 2/5 scale and will shoot 2.7mm Kolibri cartridges, the smallest ammo available.

6. Tiny Worlds in Bottles

Tokyo artist Akinobu Izumi makes very small miniatures inside small bottles and glass domes that you can purchase at his Etsy shop. This bottle has a tiny soccer game inside, with players only 3 millimeters tall! Most of the bottled figures (dinosaurs, sea creatures, and scenes) are made of paper.

7. Riot in a Jam Jar

Jimmy Cauty is best known as a musician, formerly of KLF. He is also a multimedia artist. Last month Cauty's miniature project Riot in a Jam Jar was exhibited at L-13 Gallery in London. The works feature intricate scenes of riots, such as the Greenpeace demonstration pictured, under glass.

8. The World's Smallest Postal Service

Artist Lea Redmond creates and sells many kinds of miniatures through her workshop Leafcutter Designs. One project is the World's Smallest Post Service. This is a service that sends your letters and tiny packages to a recipient of your choice.

9. World's Smallest Aquarium

Russian miniature artist Anatoly Konenko is known for his tiny books, but he made the news this year for his extremely small working aquarium. It only holds two teaspoons of water, but Konenko has Danios fish in it. He even has a tiny air pump for the aquarium.

10. Murder Scenes

Forensic scientist Frances Glessner Lee made a series of miniature dioramas of real murder scenes in the 1930s and '40s for detectives to use in investigating those murders. The 3D models gave them a new angle, so to speak, that photographs could not. Lee's profession was police work, but her hobbies involved dolls and dollhouses. See more photographs of her work at Visible Proofs.

See also: Dungeons and Dollhouses and 8 Marvelous Miniatures

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
Original image
iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
SECTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES