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The Quick 10: 10 Really Pricey Books

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I have this fantasy that I am harboring a rare, insanely valuable first edition of some obscure book somewhere on my overstuffed bookshelves. I'll decide I don't need it someday and take it to trade in at Half Price Books and the overly-honest guy behind the counter will give me a look like I've lost my mind and say, "Are you crazy? Do you know what this is worth? There must be only five of these in the entire world!"
Yeah. It's not very likely to happen. But you can bet that I'm going to devote some time to combing through the den this weekend to see if I have any of these pricey pages in my possession.

firstfolio1. Shakespeare's First Folio. It's the 1623 collection of the Bard's comedies, histories and tragedies. It cost just one pound at the time, which is about $220 these days - expensive, yes, but a bargain considering the $6.1 million it's worth today. A stolen copy popped up last year and was estimated to be worth $15 million, but it hasn't yet been sold, so whether it tops the 2001 $6.1 million selling price remains to be seen.
2. Leonardo Da Vinci's "Codex Leicester" was purchased by one of the few people who could afford to shell out $30.8 million for a notebook "“ Bill Gates. At 72 pages, that's about $420,000 per page. Each pages is filled to the brim with Da Vinci's handwriting and sketches.

3. Cosmography, based on the work of Ptolemy, is a pretty rare find: there are only two known copies in the world (maybe one of them is in my den. No?). The 1477 book was worth $4 million the last time it was sold.

4. James Audubon's Birds of America sold for $8.8 million in 2000. Only 200 complete sets were ever issued, and most of them were broken up to sell individually, which is why a complete set is so valuable.

5. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. If you discover one of these in your hot little hands, consider yourself lucky "“ Christie's auction house in New York sold a signed first edition of the book for $229,000, making it the most valuable Dickens book ever.

Hobbits6. Lord of the Rings. Likewise, a signed first edition of that book about Hobbits could garner you a lot of cash "“ probably enough to buy your own "Precious." One of these dedicated in Tolkien's hand to the "Queen of the Hobbits" fetched $104,000.
7. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Now we're getting into literature I'm more likely to own. The most expensive Harry Potter book to date is an unread first edition of HP1 "“ only 500 copies were published in the first round, long before Mr. Potter and his magical friends were household names. If you have one of these lurking in your attic, it could be worth about $37,000.
8. The Great Gatsby. A first edition copy of this Roaring "˜20s classic with a dust jacket in very good condition was sold for $180,000 just last year.

9. Moby Dick. At the same auction, an original version of Melville's whale tale in blue cloth binding went for $30,500. It's no Codex Leicester, but I'd say $30,500 is nothing to sneeze at.

ulysses10. Ulysses. The first edition was signed by James Joyce and had been stored away, allegedly unopened, for years. Because it was signed, because it was a first edition, because the color on the cover was so brilliant and unfaded, and because it was #45 of the first 100 printed, this particular copy of Joyce's epic went for £275,000 last year "“ that's roughly $437,260.

Do we have any book-collecting _flossers out there? I'm not one myself, but I'm thinking it might be a fine time to start.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]