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Jason Starr

14 Beautiful Museums in Australia and New Zealand

Original image
Jason Starr

We've featured striking and stunning museums from North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Now it's time to finish the list with some of the most beautiful museums in Australia.

1. Auckland War Memorial Museum, New Zealand

Dating back to 1852, the Auckland Museum started in a farm worker's cottage and bounced from location to location until it was moved into its current home. After WWI, the existing collection was merged with a war memorial. The building was finished in 1929 and has since become one of the most famous buildings in Auckland. The impressive structure was designed by Grierson, Aimer and Draffin and features a neo-classicist style. Two additions were added through the years to commemorate those who served in WWII.

2. Art Gallery of New South Wales

The fourth largest museum in Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales has been displaying Australian art from the time of the country's settlement until now.

The museum is mostly early Greek classical, but some of the wings constructed later on don't quite adhere to the original style designed by Walter Liberty Vernon. Admission to the museum is free, which is good—with eight wings and a rooftop sculpture garden, you might need to make multiple trips to see all the artwork.

3. Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu

After Christchurch's Robert McDougall Art Gallery closed in 2002, the Christchurch Art Gallery took its place. The gallery's dramatic, modern structure was designed by the Buchan Group. "Te Puna o Waiwhetu" is the name for the spring below the gallery.

4. Sydney Observatory

Home of the oldest observatory and telescope (still actively used) in Australia, the Sydney Observatory dates back to 1858. The sandstone, Italianate structure originally just included an office and home for the resident astronomer; a wing was added in 1877 to provide an additional office, a library, and a second dome for another telescope. The structure was officially converted into a museum by government order in 1982.

Visitors are still invited to visit and use the 1874 telescope to stare at the stars every night; they can use a more modern telescope, too. Aside from serving as an observatory open to the public, the structure also houses an astronomical museum.

5. Sovereign Hill

There are quite a few open-air museums in Australia dedicated to the gold rush. One of those museums is the incredibly popular and delightfully charming Sovereign Hill, where gold was discovered in 1851. The museum, opened in 1970, strives to be a perfect copycat of the town in the 1850s—complete with costumed actors, antiques, and gold panning—and stretches over 62 acres, including two full-sized mines where guests can enjoy guided tours.

6. Albury Library Museum

Both a library and a museum, this great space in Albury was designed by Ashton Raggatt McDougall and opened in 2007. The orange, criss-cross accents on the exterior are said to have been inspired by the historic Murray River rail bridge. The innovative look of the structure earned the building the National Award for Public Architecture from the Australian Institute of Architecture.

The building's library offers a selection of 50,000 materials while the museum showcases the city's culture and heritage, including that of the Wiradjuri natives who once lived in the area.

7. Questacon

Also known as the National Science and Technology Centre, this impressive space offers more than 200 interactive science and technology exhibits—many of which are dedicated to inspiring children in the area to develop an interest in science. Surprisingly, the modernist structure is already almost 25 years old, a gift from Japan for Australia's 1988 bicentenary.

8. Nafsika Stamoulis Hellenic Museum Limited

The Hellenic Museum aims to promote “the celebration, understanding, and preservation of the artistic and cultural heritage of ancient and modern Greece.” While the museum was only founded in 2007, it's housed in the old Royal Mint building that in dates back to 1872. The mint building is one of only a handful of Australian structures built in the Renaissance revival style. It was designed by J.J. Clark, who was strongly inspired by Raphael's 1515 Palazzo Vidoni-Caffarelli.

9. Monte Cristo Homestead

Once a home to the Crawley family, this 1885 Victorian manor stood empty between 1948 and 1963, when it was purchased by Reg and Olive Ryan, who restored the structure and turned it into a museum and antique store. Aside from providing a look at Victorian life and architecture, the Monte Cristo Homestead is also a popular destination for those seeking ghost sightings—it's considered by many to be the most haunted house in Australia.

10. Campbelltown Arts Centre

Aside from an art gallery space, this impressive building features a 180-seat performance studio, event spaces, a sculpture garden, a Japanese garden, a cafe, an amphitheater, and more. It also supports contemporary artists in the area by featuring a residency apartment and studio spaces. Campbelltown is home to one of the biggest Aboriginal communities in Australia, so the center has a particular emphasis on Indigenous visual and performance arts.

11. Australian Museum

The Australian Museum was founded in 1827, making it the oldest museum in the country. The museum building, designed by James Barnet, was completed in 1849 and officially opened to the public in 1857. Since then, it has been expanded and extended greatly to create space for the ever-increasing collection, which covers all nature of sciences including mineralogy, paleontology, anthropology, zoology, and natural history.

12. National Museum of Australia

Formally established by the National Museum of Australia Act of 1980, this national museum is surprisingly young compared to many other national museums; the building wasn't even finished until 2001. The structure was designed by Howard Raggatt, who was inspired by the idea of ropes trailing from a center knot—the ropes represent the stories of all Australians that make up the overall story of the country itself. The exterior is covered in aluminum panels, many of which feature words written in Braille (although some of the words and phrases—such as "forgive us our genocide"—were considered controversial and have since been obscured by silver discs).

While the building where it is housed is entirely modernist, the contents are totally classic, exploring and preserving 50,000 years of history in Australia. The museum's holdings include the largest collection of Aboriginal bark paintings and stone tools.

13. Australian War Memorial

Opened in 1941, the Australian War Memorial is the country's dedication to the members of its armed forces. The memorial also features a military museum, a research center, and a sculpture garden. The idea of the museum occurred to Charles Bean as he observed the fighting of WWI in France in 1916.

The structure was a result of a 1927 design contest that did not have a winner, but instead two participants were asked to create a joint design. The structure was completed in 1941, shortly after the outbreak of WWII. In front of the structure is a narrow courtyard with a memorial pool surrounding an eternal flame. To either side of the courtyard are bronze plaques naming all 102,000 Australian military personnel who have been killed in the line of duty all the way back to the British Sudanese Expedition. Visitors are encouraged to insert poppies in the cracks to honor those who have died.

14. Geelong Art Gallery

The Geelong Art Gallery hosts an impressive collection of 4000 works of art. The gallery itself was first created in 1895, and the current building was opened in 1915. The gallery was expanded in 1928 and again in 1937, 1956, and 1971. Now the once small art gallery is incredibly expansive and stretches across half a block.

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]