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Luis Alveart

10 Breathtaking South American Museums

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Luis Alveart

We’ve seen some absolutely stunning museums in Europe and North America; now it’s time to head south to see what kinds of gorgeous gems are located down in South America.

1. Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture, Colombia

Photo courtesy of Luis Alveart

Originally a private residence, then partially converted into a hotel and finally turned into a museum, the Tequendama Falls Museum is easily worth a visit just to enjoy the breathtaking view. The 1923 French-architecture-inspired building was constructed on a cliff face that overlooks the Tequendama Falls. It was supposed to be reconstructed into an eighteen story hotel after the 1950s, but construction never began and the hotel was eventually abandoned in the '90s due to contamination of the river below. The building developed a reputation for being haunted well before it was converted into a museum. For those who aren’t afraid of ghosts though, it’s certainly one of the top must-see attractions in the area.

2. Imperial Museum, Brazil


Photo courtesy of Steve Oldham

This absolutely stunning neoclassical building was completed in 1862, with the purpose of serving as the Emperor’s summer residence. After the empire fell in 1909, the mansion served as the St. Vincent de Paul College. It was one of the school’s students, Alcindo de Azevedo Sodre, who first envisioned turning the school into a historical museum. By 1940, he had convinced enough people that the structure was converted into the Imperial Museum.

Sodre became the first director of the museum, studying the history of the structure and rigorously working to locate pieces of furniture, art and other home accessories that originally belonged to the imperial family so the museum could illustrate their day-to-day lives. The museum opened in 1943, offering an important collection of documents and artifacts relating to the Brazilian Empire.

The museum now houses over 300,000 items and offers a temporary exhibition hall dedicated to contemporary art. It is currently one of the most visited museums in Brazil.

3. Museu Paulista, Brazil


Photo courtesy of Karlos

If you just can’t get enough history on the Brazilian Empire, then you’ll want to visit the Museu Paulista as well. Operated by the University of Sao Paulo, the museum is located near the spot where Emperor Pedro I proclaimed independence from Portugal.


Photo courtesy of Porto Bay Hotels and Resorts

The structure—designed by Italian architect Tommaso Gaudenzio Bezzi—and its gardens are loosely based on the French Palace of Versailles and the museum features a large collection of furniture, artwork, and documents relating to the Brazilian Empire.

4. Tigre Municipal Museum of Fine Art, Argentina


Photo courtesy of Luis Argerich

In 1890, the beautiful Tigre Hotel was constructed on the banks of the Lujan River, Tigre. Twenty-two years later, the Tigre Club was constructed next door, designed by architects Pablo Pater and Luis Dubois, and adorned with Venetian mirrors, French chandeliers, and frescoes by Spanish artist Julio Vila y Prades. Soon, it became a hot spot for Argentina’s rich and famous. Unfortunately, the owners were forced to close their casino due to new legislation in 1933. The world-wide Great Depression hit Argentina at the same time period and the luxury hotel next door was demolished in 1940. While the Club continued to operate, offering live performances and a classy restaurant, it never again saw the glory days it once had.


Photo courtesy of Tigre Municipio

Luckily, it wasn’t torn down like the Tigre Hotel, and in 1979, the building was declared a National Historic Monument. This helped earn funding for a massive renovation, and in 2006, the building reopened as the Tigre Municipal Museum of Fine Art.

5. Juan Carlos Castagnino Municipal Museum of Art, Argentina

Wikimedia Commons

This lovely building was originally constructed as a summer residence for the Ortiz Basualdo family of Buenos Aires in 1909. Designed by Pablo Pater and Luis Dubois (the same team responsible for the Tigre Club), the building features a classic French half-timber motif.

Meanwhile, the city of Mar del Plata's municipal museum of art was established in the City Hall in 1938. The Ortiz Basualdo family donated their summer home to the museum in 1980, including their fine furniture by Belgian architect and cabinet maker Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, which has been incorporated into the museum exhibits.

These days, the museum’s collection includes nearly 600 paintings, sculptures, lithographs, and photographs, most notably from local painter Juan Carlos Castagnino, for whom the museum was renamed in 1982.

6. National Museum of Fine Arts, Chile

Photo courtesy of Darren and Sandy V and Soye

Known locally as the MNBA (which stands for Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), Chile’s fine arts museum was established in 1880, making it the oldest such museum in South America. The museum was moved into the Palace of the Fine Arts building where it currently resides in 1910. The Palace was built to commemorate the country’s first centennial of independence from Spain. It was designed by French-Chilean architect Emile Jecquier, who combined Beaux-arts, Neoclassical Second Empire, Baroque, and Art Nouveau touches into the building’s design, taking strong inspiration from the Petit Palais of Paris.

The back side of the same building is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, so if you enjoy beautiful museums and great art, you really get a two-for-one when you visit the MNBA.

Like many buildings in the area, the Palace of Fine Arts received substantial damage in the 2010 Chile earthquake, but most of this damage has now been cleared out and repaired.

7. Museum of Italian Art, Peru

Wikimedia Commons

While Peru might not be the first place you think of when it comes to Italian art, this lovely museum is certainly worth a visit if you get the opportunity. The Italian community of Peru donated the museum as a gift to the country in 1921 to celebrate the country’s 100th anniversary of independence from Spain.

The building, designed by Italian architect Gaetano Moretti, is just as much an artwork as many of the pieces inside. The exterior features elements from Bramante’s architecture and decorations inspired by famous artists such as Donatello, Ghiberti, Michelangelo and Botticelli. The façade features emblems from the largest cities in Italy and two Venetian mosaics featuring famous men from Italian history. Inside, there is a massive stained glass inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera.

One unique feature of this museum is its offering of guided visits for the blind. The service allows blind patrons to wear special gloves and touch the bronze and marble statues to appreciate the beauty of the works. This experience is unavailable to the general public, but it allows the museum to help live up to its philosophy of bringing art and culture to all people.

8. Ricardo Brennand Institute, Brazil

Wikimedia Commons

In case you’re wondering, no, Brazil didn’t have any medieval castles or forts just hanging around filled with classical art and armor. This structure is instead a modern castle recreation (officially opened in 2002 to be exact) constructed in a classic Tudor style adorned with some original medieval pieces such as a drawbridge, a number of coats of arms, and a Gothic altarpiece. The massive building fills a gross area of 77,000 square meters and is located on a garden that spans over 44,000 acres and is endowed with artificial lakes and recreations of famous sculptures including The Thinker by Auguste Rodin, David by Michelangelo, and The Lady and the Horse by Fernando Botero.

The institute was borne from Brazilian businessman Ricardo Brennand’s personal collection of weapons, armor, and art that he began assembling in the 1940s. In 1990, he established the museum, which includes an art gallery, a library, an auditorium and a number of administrative/technical rooms. The museum offers free courses on art history and educational programs for teachers as well.

The collection includes objects from around the globe dating from the early Middle Ages to the 20th century, though there is a strong emphasis on Colonial and Dutch-occupied Brazil; in fact, the museum holds the world’s largest collection of items related to the Dutch occupation. It also has one of the largest collections of armor in the world, featuring over 3,000 pieces, including armor for dogs and horses. Meanwhile, the library houses over 62,000 volumes dating from the sixteenth century on, with a particular emphasis on works about Brazil written by travelers from Europe.

9. Estevez Palace, Uruguay

Photo courtesy of ClixYou

The Doric and Colonial styled Estevez Palace was originally owned by don Francisco Estevez and his family, but in 1880, the government acquired the building and established it as the workplace of the president. One hundred years later, President Julio Maria Sanguinetti moved the presidential office elsewhere, allowing the building to be transformed into a museum dedicated to the Uruguayan presidency and those who have served in the office. These days, the presidential office is located right next door, so it is a perfect destination for those interested in learning more about the workings of the Uruguayan government.

10. Quito Astronomical Observatory, Ecuador

Photo courtesy of Casey

Once a cutting edge observatory, this 1873 astronomical science building now serves as a museum educating the public on observatory technology and general astronomy. Founded in 1873 and completed five years later, the observatory is the oldest in all of Latin America and its design was based on the observatory of Bonn, Germany. While the original telescope dates back to 1875, many of the tools date between 1902 and 1914, when the second French Geodesic Mission traveled to Ecuador to confirm the results of the first mission, which set out to measure the roundness of the earth.

The building was restored in 2009 and remains one of the most important collections of nineteenth century astronomical instruments.

Know of any other amazing South American museums that visitors simply can’t miss out on? Let us know about them in the comments!

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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