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11 Public Art Projects You Might Have Missed

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For more than a decade, cities all over the world have been regularly invaded during the height of the tourist season by colorfully painted statues of animals or objects, all in an effort to raise money for local charities. The subjects for these projects range from the mundane to the bizarre, but they're always a big hit with the community, as shown by the hundreds of thousands of dollars that are spent when the art pieces are auctioned off after the exhibit has ended. Unless you're a connoisseur of cows, here are a few of these public art projects that you might have missed.

1. CowParade – 50+ cities worldwide

When? 1998 – today

What? Most of America first heard about CowParade when the brightly painted bovines visited Chicago in 1999. However, the cows actually appeared first in Zurich, Switzerland, as the Land in Sicht ("Countryside in view") exhibit in 1998. Since then, CowParade has become a worldwide phenomenon, raising millions for non-profit groups in more than 50 cities throughout the world, including New York, London, Tokyo, Boston, Paris, Milan, and Buenos Aires. There have been over 2,500 cows created by more than 5,000 artists, each putting their unique, local spin on the design. Aside from well-known names from the modern art field, celebrities like fashion designer Michael Graves, filmmaker David Lynch, and the band Radiohead have contributed their own designs. And first-name acts like Oprah, Ringo, and Elton have all purchased cows from the benefit auction that marks the end of each parade.


How Much? $20+ million to date. The highest price paid for a cow at auction was $146,000 for Waga-Moo-Moo (at left), a cow covered in a mosaic of thousands of pieces of Waterford Crystal, created by fashion designer John Rocha during Dublin's CowParade in 2003.


Who? Many local children's charities for each city, including Special Olympics, children's hospitals, and after-school organizations.

2. Go Superlambananas! – Liverpool, England

When? June – August 2008

What? Liverpool was selected as the "European Capital of Culture" for 2008 and used the event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the city's landmark statue, Taro Chiezo's Superlambanana. This strange art piece is a combination of two of Liverpool's most popular historic imports – sheep and bananas. The original statue is 17 feet tall and weighs nearly eight tons, but for the art project, 125 6-foot fiberglass replicas were used instead.
(Image via Flickr user Haversack.)


How Much? £550,000 for the first 69, auctioned at a large gala celebration (75% went to charity). About £134,000 for another 30 that were auctioned online (25% went to charity). The rest were purchased individually. The highest bid went for 'Mandy' Mandala Superlambanana (at left), which sold for £25,000 and now resides at the World Museum in Liverpool.


Who? Alder Hey Children's Hospital, University Hospital's Centre for Oncology, the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital, and the Alzheimer's Society.

Liverpool also hosted the "Go Penguins!" event from 2009 to 2010, in which 142 5-foot-tall penguins were painted and sold at auction, raising £40,000 for Liverpool charities.

3. Elephant Parade – Various European cities

When? September 2007 – today

What? The Elephant Parade project started in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, with 44 5-foot-tall elephants. Since then, the elephants have spread to Antwerp, London, Milan, Copenhagen, and many more cities, raising hundreds of thousands of Euros at every show.
(Image via Flickr user Loz Flowers.)


How Much? €248,500 in Rotterdam, and even better at every showing since. The biggest tally thus far was London in 2010, which raised £4 million. The highest single bid for an elephant – £155,000 – was for Jack Vettriano's elephant, The Singing Butler Rides Again (at left), based on his famous painting, The Singing Butler.


Who? The Asian Elephant Foundation, a Netherlands-based group that supports animal hospitals and buys land for the preservation of Asian elephants.

4. Buddy Bears – Various cities throughout the world

When? 2001 – today

What? Buddy Bears started in Berlin as a one-time charity event. 350 bears were painted and sold, raising money for a local children's charity. However, the project was so well received that it grew into the United Buddy Bears concept in 2002. The United Buddy Bears are about 6 feet tall with their arms in the air and are always displayed side-by-side in a unifying circle, so they appear to be holding hands. The message behind the bears is to promote peace through shared cultural education and experiences. United Buddy Bears travel the world representing 140 countries recognized by the United Nations, stopping in places like Tokyo, Sydney, Cairo, Jerusalem, Helsinki, and Pyongyang; international film star Jackie Chan helped bring the bears to Hong Kong in 2004. At the end of every event, some of the bears are sold for charity and new ones are commissioned to ensure there are always 140 in the circle.


How Much? €1.7 million as of August 2011


Who? UNICEF or another local children's charity for the host city

5. GuitarTown – Austin, TX

When? November 2006 – August 2007


What? 35 10-foot-tall Gibson guitars, as well as 30 playable instruments. To up the ante, some of the statues and instruments were signed by musicians like Ray Benson, Pete Townshend, Emmylou Harris, ZZ Top, Dwight Yoakam, and Norah Jones, and celebrities like Chuck Norris, Billy Bob Thornton, Dennis Quaid, and Quentin Tarantino.


How Much? $589,000. Two guitars – Reflections of Austin and Striking Texas Gold (at left) – sold for $55,000 each.


Who? Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, Austin Museum of Art, Austin Children's Museum, and American Youthworks, an organization working with at-risk kids.

6. DinoMite Days – Pittsburgh, PA

When? May – September 2003


What? 100 fiberglass dinosaurs in three different designs:
- Tyrannosaurus rex – 7' tall, 200lbs
- Torosaurus/Triceratops – 5'6" tall, 200lbs
- Stegosaurus – 5'6" tall, 200 lbs


How Much? $290,000. The highest bid was for a stegosaurus, Seymour Sparklesaurus, for $17,5000. The Steelers' Jack Lambert-inspired T. Rex, Splatasaurus (at left), complete with football helmet and pads, came in a close second at $15,000.


Who? The Carnegie Museum of Natural History

7. Wow! Gorillas – Bristol, UK

When? July – September 2011


What? To celebrate its 175th birthday, the Bristol Zoo commissioned 61 life-sized gorillas based on one of their most famous and beloved residents, a gorilla named Alfred, who died in 1948.


How Much? £427,300. The best seller was Gorisambard (at left), a top hat-wearing simian, which sold for £23,000.


Who? Ape Action Africa, a Cameroon-based gorilla conservation program sponsored by the zoo, and the Bristol Children's Hospital

8. Moose in the City – Toronto, Canada

When? April – October 2000

What? 326 life-sized moose, making it one of the largest single-city exhibits of this kind. Seven moose were also sent as diplomats to Chicago and Sydney during the 2000 Summer Olympics. The antlers were made separately from the rest of the body and attached after the fact. Unfortunately, this method made the antlers pretty easy to remove, and vandals took the opportunity to steal them. The city offered a monetary reward for returned antlers, but this only made the problem worse, as people started stealing them just so they could turn them in.


How Much? $1.4 million


Who? 75 different Toronto organizations benefited from the moose sales, including the Canadian Olympic Association's Athlete Grant, the Daily Bread Food Bank, the Toronto Public Library, and many local hospitals and kids' programs.

9. Sea Cows for Kids / Big Cats for Kids – Jacksonville, FL


When? 2004 – 2005 / 2006 – 2007

What? 43 manatees to honor the region's native species / 53 jaguars as a nod to the city's NFL team. The manatees saw some pretty inventive designs, including a fan favorite, Kling-A-Ding, the Klingon Warrior Sea Cow. Not to be outdone, Super City, Super Kitty was there to save the day.


How Much? The manatees raised more than $215,000; the jaguars reached $220,000. The highest price paid for a manatee was $6,000, and the jaguars topped out at $12,000.


Who? All proceeds went to benefit a charitable organization founded by former NBA player and Jacksonville native, Otis Smith, called, fittingly enough, the Otis Smith Kids Foundation. The organization provided after-school programs and summer camps for kids in poor neighborhoods. Sadly, these fund-raising efforts were not enough to prevent the Foundation from closing in August 2007.

Jacksonville also hosted the Turtle Trails art project in 2010, raising $150,000 for the Child Guidance Center, which offers mental health services to kids and families.

10. Peanuts on Parade – St. Paul, MN, and Santa Rosa, CA

When? St. Paul: 2000 – 2004 / Santa Rosa: 2005 – 2007, 2010

What? Starting in the summer of 2000, St. Paul, the birthplace of legendary cartoonist Charles Schulz, placed 101 Snoopy statues throughout the city. The next summer (2001) featured dozens of Charlie Brown statues, followed by Lucy (2002), Linus (2003), and finally, Snoopy on his doghouse, hanging out with Woodstock (2004). To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Peanuts, Schulz's adopted home of Santa Rosa continued the project with 55 Charlie Browns in 2005, 76 Woodstocks in 2006, 95 statues of Snoopy as Joe Cool in 2007, and then 30 Lucy statues in 2010.
(Image via Flickr user Augie Schwer.)


How Much? Numbers for the entire St. Paul project are hard to come by online, but the first auction of the Snoopy statues alone rake in more than $1 million. Santa Rosa brought in about $1.8 million over the life of the project, with the Flamingo Hotel shelling out $31,000 for a Joe Cool statue named Boom shaka laka laka and another $30,000 for Joe Cool Giant, signed by 42 current and past San Francisco Giants, including home run king Barry Bonds.


Who? Both cities used the money for art scholarships and art programs for young people, as well as bronze statues of Peanuts characters that have been installed in public places to commemorate Schulz's legacy.

11. The Trail of the Painted Ponies – Santa Fe, NM

When? 2001

What? 150 life-sized ponies scattered throughout New Mexico. The exhibit was such a big hit that a company was formed to keep the project going, but on a more collectible scale. Now, every year, they release new Painted Pony figurines, ranging in size from 7" to 9". They've even gotten a few celebrity designers on board, like Dolly Parton, Tony Curtis, and I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden. With more than $11 million in sales, the Ponies have been called one of the hottest collectibles in the country.


How Much? About $500,000 during the original campaign, but they have continued their philanthropic ways to the tune of more than $1 million donated.


Who? Over the last 10 years, sales from Painted Ponies have helped numerous schools and non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the American Humane Society, the United Way, and St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

Did you get a chance to see any of these exhibits? Or maybe you've been to one of many projects like these? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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