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At the Libraries

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Every Wednesday, Miss Kathleen provides links to a variety of things happening at libraries across the country. If there's something fun going on in your local library this week, leave us a comment!

Stacy's series on children's books has gotten a lot of readers revisiting their youth, and I bet you will actually wish that you could be young again for the chance to attend Ocean County (NJ) Library's Star Wars Camp! It's this summer for children and families, so if you aren't a child or don't have your own, maybe you could borrow someone else's? They have lots of other great programs as well, which you can read about here.
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The Baltimore Public Library has a truly innovative offering -- groceries delivered to you at the library!?

I can't imagine that this actually works, but NPR has the whole scoop. You can read more about it on the Baltimore City Health Department website.
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One of the groups that we youth services librarians try to reach is teens. There are so many great teen books (besides Twilight), and the library can be a positive place in a teen's sometimes-turbulent life (at least, we hope so!). Calvert (MD) Library is really going above and beyond by having a Teen Only Night once a month -- only teens are allowed, and they break out the Wii and snacks for some fun!
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Teens don't just read books, they write them, too! Kellah Jarvis is sharing her work and encouraging others at the East Regional Library in Knightdale, NC, on Tuesday, May 18.
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Back to the books. A recent complaint by a library user got attention, and quite a reasonable answer (I think), about why the book he loved a few years ago was no longer in the library. If you've ever wondered that same thing, try reading this article and see if you agree or disagree: Library books end up in the trash.
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A reader asked me to give a shout-out to the Lower Mills Branch Library of the Boston Public Library -- it sounds like it is in danger of budget cuts (not uncommon these days). That's too bad, because it looks like they have some really great events coming up, including a music series in the summer. Check out their calendar here.
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Librarians, as information professionals, have a real thirst for knowledge, but there's a lot of stuff out there to read. How do we whittle it all down? Everyone has their favorite news outlets, but another great resource is The Library Link of the Day: Just one article related to a book or library. It's like VSL, but for libraries (and their fans)!
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And of course, many librarians blog. Here's a sample of some funny ones: Annoyed Librarian, Dewey Decimal System, Librarian Trading Cards, and one from the comments last week: Awful Library Books. I have my own horror stories about things I've found on the shelf, well past their expiration date.
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One of the more famous librarian bloggers (retired, actually) is Will Manley. He takes on lots of controversial topics, like sex, using the F-bomb, and, most insidious, perhaps, the staff potluck.
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And do librarians tweet? Oh yes. Try following @halfpintingalls, @The_Pigeon, @MissJoMarch, or @BetsyTacyTib for some children's literature fun in your twitter stream.

And we'll end with a video to make you laugh:

That's not the only Library Ninja, strangely. Be sure and check out the related content for more library silliness.
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I've gotten lots of kind emails and comments -- thanks, guys! It's great to know that the libraries are near-and-dear to a lot of your hearts. Remember, we want to publicize all the great stuff that YOUR library is doing, so tell me at atthelibraries@gmail.com and I'll try and get it in a future column. See you next week!

See previous installments of At the Libraries here.

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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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