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25 Things You Should Know About Oslo

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Within Oslo’s city limits are 40 islands, 343 lakes, and an entire forest, yet it’s only the third largest Nordic metropolis, behind Stockholm and Copenhagen. But it's the melding of urban and natural landscapes that gives the Norwegian capital its distinct appeal. Notable art is showcased in the parks and woods, and modern landmarks pay homage to the country’s scenery. Say hei to 25 more facts about this Scandinavian city.

1. The original city was founded around 1050 by King Harald Hardrada, but destroyed in a fire in 1624. So Christian IV of Denmark-Norway set up a new town further west, and changed the name to Christiania. The spelling was switched to Kristiania in 1877, but Parliament reverted to Oslo in 1925.

2. In 1814, Norway’s first constitution designated Christiania as the official capital.

3. Oslo is Norway’s most populous city with 647,676 residents as of January 2015, comprising 12.5 percent of the country’s total population.

4. If Oslo's average temperature of 22°F in January feels a little chilly, you should just go ahead and blame yourself: “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing choices,” as a popular Norwegian saying goes.

5. Norway’s King and Queen live at the Royal Palace, located at the top of Karl Johans Gate (essentially Oslo's Main Street). Construction began in 1824; the palace was first used in 1849 by King Oscar I. Foreign heads of state also stay here when visiting the capital on business, and the public can tour the royal residence during the summer (ticket sales for this season started earlier this month).

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6.
There are actually four existing versions of Edvard Munch’s most famous work, The Scream. An 1893 tempera-and-crayon one hangs in Oslo’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, or Nasjonalmuseet, while a 1893 pastel and a 1910 painting are at the city’s Munch Museum, or Munchmuseet. The fourth, produced in 1895, which bought for around $120 million at a Sotheby’s auction.

7. The Scream depicts the vantage point from the hilltop of Oslo’s Ekeberg neighborhood, with the fjord, town, and hills below.

Edvard Munch's The Scream, Google Art Project //Wikimedia Commons


8.
Get lost in the 62-acre sculpture park Ekebergparken, which was opened in 2013 by philanthropist and collector Christian Ringnes. As of today, 34 sculptures are peppered throughout the grounds, including works by Salvador Dali, Auguste Rodin, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. A highlight? James Turrell’s Skyspace: The Color Beneath, which changes hues, thus altering the viewer's perception of the work—and his or her perception of "the sky above," as the work's description reads.

9. A naked man juggling four infants, an angry stomping baby, and a 46-foot high tower of 121 humans are just a few of the more than 200 art pieces at Vigeland Sculpture Park located inside Oslo’s biggest greenspace, Frogner Park. Sculptor Gustav Vigeland made every one of the sculptures himself and also designed the architecture of the 80-acre park, which was finished between 1939 and 1949.

10. The sloped marble top of the Oslo Opera House, designed by architecture firm Snøhetta, resembles an iceberg jetting out of a fjord—and visitors are encouraged to climb the roof all year long. The 414,411-square-foot building, which opened in 2008 and cost $665 million to build, sits on the Oslo waterfront, and is home to the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet.

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11.
Just a 15-minute metro ride inland from the capital’s center is a forest, Oslomarka, completely within the city limits of Oslo.

12. As a kid, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl used to spend his summer vacations visiting his grandparents in Oslo.

13. Every year since 1947, Oslo has given London its Trafalgar Square Christmas tree as a thank you gift for the UK's support during World War II. The city has also given Reykjavik one annually since 1951. But in 2014, Fabian Stang, who was then the mayor of Oslo, said they would no longer be gifting a tree to the Icelandic capital because of the high costs involved. After then-mayor of Reykjavik Jon Gnarr fired back, the tradition was reinstated without a break.

14. The city’s Viking Ship Museum houses three historical boats: the Oseberg, made of oak in the year 820; the Tune, which was the first Viking ship to be excavated when it was found in 1867; and the world's best-preserved Viking ship, the Gokstad, discovered in a burial mound on a farm in 1879.


15.
A noble date: Every year on December 10, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded in the presence of Norway’s King Harald V at Oslo City Hall. The other Nobel Prizes are presented in Stockholm.

16. The Akershus Castle and Fortress, which was used during the Middle Ages, still serves as a military base. Look familiar? There's a replica of it at Walt Disney World’s Epcot in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

17. Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen worked in theaters in both Bergen and Oslo, but moved to Germany where he wrote his most famous work, A Doll's House. Later in life, he returned to Oslo, where he died on May 23, 1906.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain


18.
In February, Oslo’s Maaemo restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars, making it the only restaurant in the country with the honor. The inspectors said the cooking at the restaurant, whose name means "Mother Earth," is "intricate, original and visually stimulating with some sublime flavor combinations.”

19. The Oslo Airport is the first in the world to offer biofuel to all airlines, and Lufthansa was the first to use the Air BP aviation biofuel in an Airbus A320 on January 22.

20. Music lovers visiting the Norwegian city have a wide variety of events to choose from. There's the Inferno Metal Festival in March, and the Norwegian Wood Rock Festival in June. Oh, and then the Oslo Jazz Festival in August, the Oslo World Music Festival in November, and the Oslo International Church Music Festival in March.


21.
Who said bigger is better? The city’s Mini Bottle Gallery is the only museum of its kind on the planet. It contains 53,000 bottles, 12,500 of which are on display across the 16,147-square-foot space.

22. The Holmenkollen ski jump hosted competitions annually from 1892 to 2008, and was even the site of the World Championships in 1982. A new jump was built in 2010, and Holmenkollen is now known as the world’s most modern ski jump, featuring 1000 tons of steel over the 440-foot long hill. The observation deck provides panoramic views, and more daring visitors can zipline down the hill for about $70.

23. The big cheese in town: Brunost, which translates to "brown cheese." But the tan-colored slices aren’t actually cheese at all. The fudge-like texture and sweet-yet-salty taste comes from the caramelization of goat’s milk whey.

24. Oslo was ranked the most expensive city in the world in 2013, but this year it dropped out of the top 10, coming in at number 13.

25. Play more than 100 video games from 1972 to today at the Game On 2.0 exhibit at the Norwegian Museum of Science & Technology, or Teknisk Museum (through January 29, 2017). Visitors can challenge each other to the original arcade versions of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and more.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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