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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
May 21, 2017
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!

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iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

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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