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LornaWatt via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

10 Impressive Yarnbombing Projects

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LornaWatt via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Yarnbombers make the world cozy and colorful, one tree, bench, or tank at a time.

1. THE REMEMBERING TREE

rodtuk via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Launched in December 2013, The Remembering Tree is an annual yarnbombing project in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, that raises funds for GAGA (Goodwill and Growth for Africa). Crocheted squares—half are made in the UK and half by impoverished women in South Africa "to help boost their income and gain new skills," according to GAGA's websiteare sold as memorials to lost loved ones, then used to cover a tree overnight. A list of the names accompanies the display. The location of the tree is kept a secret; according to the town's website, "Although Stratford District Council are fully behind the ‘The Remembering Tree,’ and are aware of its location, we want to keep it a secret so that you can get a great sense of pleasure from the surprise." After six weeks, the squares are removed from the tree, washed, and sewn into blankets for those who need them in both Africa and the UK. You can find out more about The Remembering Tree on the project's Facebook page.

2. CHURCHILL MK 6 TANK

At the annual Victorious Festival in Southsea, Portsmouth, UK, in 2014, more than 200 people donated crocheted squares to cover an entire World War II-era tank in yarn. The project's goal was to bring awareness of breast and testicular cancer to festival-goers. After the festival, the covering was divided into blanket-size pieces and donated to homeless shelters.

It's not the only time a tank has been covered in yarn: As part of a 2006 exhibition at Nikolaj Contemporary Art Center in Copenhagen, Danish artist Marianne Jørgensen covered a WWII M24 Chaffee tank (borrowed from the Danish Army) in 3500 pink squares knitted by volunteers. The piece was a protest against the war in Iraq.

3. ALBERT EINSTEIN

On July 19, 2012, a true guerrilla work of art appeared in front of the National Academy of Science in Washington, D.C. A statue of Albert Einstein was completely covered in crocheted pink, purple, green, black and gray yarn. The work was attributed to New York City-based artist Olek, who tweeted an image of the finished product.

There were plenty of pictures taken of the yarn-covered Einstein, but the artwork was dismantled within hours.

4. SQUID TREE

LornaWatt via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Sisters Lorna and Jill Watt are fiber artists who bring color to San Francisco and other cities on a regular basis. In 2013, Lorna was an artist-in-residence for Downtown San Mateo, California. On one municipal cleanup day, she and Jill knitted a bright blue squid around a tree. It took 40 hours and 4 miles of yarn to complete the 15-foot-tall squid—which San Mateo residents loved.

5. BUTTMUNCHES

LornaWatt via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Watts created these knit-covered monster benches—which they called "Buttmunches"—outside the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Their choice of location was partially about the surroundings, and partially about nostalgia. "Our inspiration was to find a picturesque site in the city where both locals and tourists could enjoy our work," Lorna wrote on the sisters' website. "The Ferry Plaza is also sentimental to us since we have fond memories from the '80s of taking the ferry to the Embarcadero to have lunch with our grandfather who worked at PG&E. Our mother also worked near the Embarcadero, and we’ve been going there since we were kids."

The process of creating the bench coverings—which required 3 miles of yarn, 30 hours to create, and three hours to install—was filmed for the CCTV-America show Full Frame in 2014. "We knit the bodies, arms, legs, and mouths on the Bond Ultimate Sweater Machine with Knit Picks Brava Sport and some value acrylic from the craft store," Lorna wrote. "We crocheted the hands, feet, eyes, teeth, horns, and other details using more value acrylic from our stash." You can see photos of people enjoying the benches here.

6. LIZARD’S MOUTH YARN BOMB

Stephen Duneier is a hedge fund manager and financial consultant, but he’s also an artist known as the Yarnbomber. His art installations in the mountains around Santa Barbara, California, are created to attract people to the great outdoors, and are not only permitted, but encouraged by the U.S. Forest Service. Duneier and his volunteer assistants cover trees and boulders with crocheted blankets, making them stand out from their surroundings. Each installation is only up for nine days, so finding one is like discovering a treasure for those willing to hike through the landscape.

7. THE COVERED CARAVAN

Roxie Carpenter via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Ladies Fancywork Society of Denver crocheted a complete cover for a travel trailer in 2013. "We joined hooks forces and we made it, several hours of crocheting plus 5 days of installation," one of the bombers wrote on her website. "Most of the yarn is from leftovers, donations from other crocheters or knitters, our own donations."

8. ANDY WARHOL BRIDGE

TheKarenD via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In August 2013, the Andy Warhol Bridge in Pittsburgh was covered in knitted, woven, and crocheted blankets in honor of the 85th anniversary of the artist’s birth. Volunteers, under the direction of Pittsburgh artist Amanda Gross, spent 14 months making the panels to cover the 1061-foot-long bridge. The Knit the Bridge Project was conceived to highlight Pittsburgh as a city of bridges and steel, and to bring the community together to create accessible art. The bridge remained decorated for about three weeks. You can see more pictures at Pittsburgh magazine.

9. KNIT A RIVER

Knit A River at the National Theatre - Saturday 14th July 2007

From 2006 to 2007, the London-based I Knit partnered with WaterAid on Knit a River, a project meant to draw attention to the more than 1 billion people who lack access to clean water. "The sole purpose of the project was to create something to show off at WaterAid events as a means to grab public attention and to engage people with their vital work," I Knit says on its website. An estimated nearly 100,000 patches were knitted by volunteers worldwide. The knitted "river" made appearances at events across the UK, but the largest section was part of the 2007 Watch This Space Festival. According to I Knit's website, during that event the river was "draped like a waterfall from the roof of the National Theatre on London's South Bank," and made for "a spectacular sight!" You can see more photos here.

10. "FEELS GOOD TO BE YOU" CAMPAIGN

7Up viaDesignBoom

For its 2014 "Feels Good to Be You" ad campaign, 7Up recruited Austin-based urban knitter Magda Sayeg to yarnbomb both an entire square in Santiago, Chile, and a double-decker bus in London. According to DesignBoom, covering the bus required "20 suitcases full of vibrantly hued yarn."

Knitting, Sayeg said in a behind-the-scenes video about yarnbombing in Santiago, helps people "stop and smell the roses. You're desensitized by your surroundings, and then you add knitting, and you kinda look at it. You look at it differently."

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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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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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