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8 Bookstore Cats

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Just as library cats enjoy the attention they get from people who love books, bookstore cats get the same treatment. Many are featured prominently on their store's websites, and have become beloved local celebrities.

1. Silas

A stray cat later named Silas came to A Novel Idea used bookstore in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1995. He lived there for 14 years, but he was no paragon of decorum.

He ruined telephones and clocks. Knocked the store's credit card machine to the floor time and again, leaving a trail of receipt paper unspooling across the floor. He climbed shelves and cried when he couldn't get down.

Still, everyone loved Silas. Patrons had their pictures made with him, and passers-by would leave lipstick kisses for him on the store window. Silas even had a fan club. He was euthanized this past February after suffering from the effects of old age. A Novel Idea raised funds for the local animal shelter as a tribute to Silas, and planned to get a new store cat from a shelter.

2. Zola

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Zola was rescued from an abusive situation and was adopted in 2006 as a store cat by Iliad Books in North Hollywood, California. She had been kept in a small cage, where neglect and infection caused her to lose one eye and several teeth. Despite her rough start in life, Zola is an affectionate and friendly cat.

3. Squeak

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Squeak was named for the peculiar sound she makes instead of a regular meow. She lives at Builders Booksource in Berkeley, California. She was a young feral cat who came to the back door of the store looking for a meal. Squeak has the run of the store, and is a loving cat, although she runs from children and wants to be held in only a certain way.

4. Mr. B

168misterb2.jpgSirius Black is not only a character from the Harry Potter books, it's also the formal name of the cat known as Mr. B. He's the cat-in-residence at Shiretown Books in Woodstock, Vermont. He spends his time napping, when he isn't enjoying the attention of patrons and checking out the contents of their shopping bags. The store sells bookmarks featuring Mr. B.

5. Pringles

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Pringles is the official greeter at Prospero's Books in Manassas, Virginia. Pringles shares the most important feature of all bookstore cats of being at ease with and even friendly to strangers. As you can see from the picture, he figures into the store's advertising.

6. Chubby, Little Girl, and Tara

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The Bodhi Tree Bookstore in Hollywood, California has had a series of store cats, beginning with Chubby, who died of old age and was buried under the sacred fig tree behind the store. Little Girl replaced him as the cat-in-residence, and later retired to live with one of the store employees. Tara (pictured) is the current store cat.

7. Ginger

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Ginger lives at Orinda Books in Orinda, California. She came to the store as a five-week-old abandoned kitten. Patrons suggested over 200 names for the cat, who is friendly to everyone who comes in.

8. Fup

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Fup was the Powell's Technical Books store cat from 1988 until her death in 2007. She lived 19 years, nearly all of which was spent at the store in Portland, Oregon, save for a six-week period in 1997 while the bookstore underwent a remodel. A quarter of a million subscribers followed Fup's adventures through her column in the Powell's newsletter.

In her youth, Fup would sometimes climb ladders and hide at the top of book fixtures to look down upon the humans in her domain. Over the years, Fup acquired a well-earned reputation for biting employees who intruded on her time for more than about 30 seconds. However, she would always be sitting in front of the office to greet whoever came to open the store in the morning, demanding her serving of canned food for breakfast. She was more patient with visitors; Fup played the celebrity game well. She received many gifts and cards and emails from fans, which she appreciated.

See also: 8 Library Cats, Five Famous Felines, and Five Fantastic Felines.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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