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10 Charities Looking for Yarn Crafters

There are people who love to knit and crochet, but produce more sweaters, blankets, caps, and mittens than their friends and families can use. Yarn crafters are a generous group: in 2000, images of penguins wearing sweaters to help them recover from an oil spill prompted knitters all over the world to donate handmade penguin sweaters to the Penguin Foundation. They received many times more sweaters than they wanted, and most of the tiny sweaters were sold to raise funds.

There are other folks who could benefit from some lovingly-crafted woolens for one reason or another. Organizations have arisen to connect generous and productive crafters with those who could really use their output. Maybe you would like to knit for one of them.

1. Warm Up America!

The Bees via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Warm Up America! was founded in 1991 by Evie Rosen of Wisconsin, who knitted afghans for homeless shelters. She knew she could get more people involved if they weren’t expected to make an entire blanket, but instead could donate squares that could be combined with other people’s squares to make blankets. The organization has been doing that ever since. They accept individual 7” x 9” squares, as well as finished blankets and clothing items. The items are distributed to homeless shelters and hospital nurseries, as well as other charities as the need arises.

2. Bundles of Love

Bundles of Love via Facebook

Bundles of Love is a nonprofit organization that provides basic supplies for newborns in Minnesota, including bedding, clothing, and basic care items. They distribute these items to families in need through a network of 60 hospitals and organizations in the state. Bundles of Love accepts donations of knitted and sewn clothing and bedding, and they even provide patterns. But they also need monetary donations, sewing supplies, and other baby supplies for the bundles. Or you can volunteer your time if you're in Minnesota..

3. Wildlife Victoria

Wildlife Victoria via Facebook

Wildlife Victoria is committed to helping wild animals in Australia. One of their projects is providing foster care for orphaned baby kangaroos, or joeys. Among the items they need knitted or sewn are pouches and pouch liners to substitute for kangaroo mothers. Other orphaned marsupials benefit from pouches, too: wallabies, wombats, possums, and koalas can use them to stay warm and secure. The instructions for making wool pouches in several sizes are here

4. Afghans for Afghans

NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Afghans for Afghans is a volunteer project that connects yarn crafters with the people of Afghanistan. Volunteers do make the blankets we call afghans, but also wool sweaters, socks, hats, baby clothes, and other items. The 2014 and 2015 campaigns were a huge success. A new campaign is set to begin sometime in 2016. Check the community forum for updates.

5. Binky Patrol

Screenshot via YouTube

Binky Patrol is an organization that provides donated handmade security blankets to children in need. These include kids battling HIV, drug abuse, child abuse, or chronic and terminal illnesses. Volunteers can make blankets in a variety of ways: knitting, crocheting, quilting, or just sewing up a nice piece of fleece fabric. “Binkys” range from two-feet-square for preemies up to twin bed size, and all sizes in between. Learn more about volunteering and making blankets in this video by founder Susan Finch.

6. Knots of Love

Christine M. Fabiani learned to make crocheted caps, and made them for her sons. A friend remarked how she would have loved to have one when she underwent chemotherapy and lost her hair. Chemo patients are often cold in clinics and hospitals, and wigs aren’t comfortable all the time. Fabiani responded by founding Knots of Love, which provides cancer patients with handmade caps. Volunteers make knitted or crocheted caps that are sent to treatment centers all over. Tens of thousands of caps have been distributed since 2007. Instructions for donating caps are here.

7. The Baby Bird Nest Craft-Along

A San Rafael, California wildlife rehabilitation center noticed that baby birds were sometimes bruised and injured in the makeshift bowls they were using for nests. WildCare sent out a call for a softer alternative, and the yarn craft community responded by knitting soft and cozy nests for orphaned baby birds to snuggle. The response was so enthusiastic that WildCare shared the nests with other bird shelters. Now organized by WildCare, the Baby Bird Nest Campaign has received over 3500 knitted and crocheted nests from volunteers from all over. A new campaign for 2016 is expected to begin in the spring. If you want to participate, you can register for email updates. See pictures from the campaign here

8. Knitted Knockers

Knitted Knockers via Facebook.

Knitted Knockers is a nonprofit that provides handmade prosthetic breasts to mastectomy patients. They organize knitters to make knitted cotton breasts that are lightweight, comfortable, and—most importantly—free to those who need them. Since 2010, they have received and distributed over 5000 knitted breasts.

9. The Mother Bear Project

The Mother Bear Project sends knitted teddy bears to children in emerging nations who are affected by HIV and AIDS. They’ve already distributed more than 100,000 bears to children in 26 different countries. They welcome all knitters to make bears using the same pattern. The organization adds a red heart and a tag with the knitter's name before distributing the bears.

10. Leggings For Life

Leggings for Life via Facebook.

Injured and disabled animals come in all sizes, shapes, and species, and some of them need custom-made clothing and cushions for their special needs. For example, the cat pictured here, named Willow, gets around by dragging her deformed back legs. A set of custom-knitted leggings helps her slide along easier with less skin irritation. Her leggings were made by a volunteer with Leggings for Life. The organization takes requests from veterinarians and pet owners, and matches them up with volunteer yarn crafters who may live near them. This creates an ongoing partnership, since each pet has different dimensions and the leggings will wear out and need to be replaced.

Even if you’re not a crafter, you can help any of these organizations with a monetary contribution. Some are also seeking donations of supplies or corporate sponsorship.

See also: 9 More Charities Looking for Yarn Crafters.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

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]

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