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At the Libraries: Your Weekly Round-Up

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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!

Like eating? Like books? See if your area has an Edible Books Festival, where people compete to make the best book title/cake creation. Check out these amazing pictures from the recent Seattle Edible Book Festival. There are events at the libraries at Duke and the University of Illinois, too. If there doesn't appear to be a similar event where you are, start one!
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Last week reader Lauren told us about a great contest for library lovers: the American Library Association's Library Advocacy Day. Make a short video illustrating why libraries are important, and you could not only launch your YouTube career, but also win a cool $250. Entry deadline is May 26, so get working!

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We also heard about a library that was in danger of closing last week. Sadly, it's not the only one. All the libraries in New Jersey are facing a crisis, but the good news is that you can do something about it. New Jersey-ites, go here and see how you can get involved to help the libraries in your community.
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Maybe libraries will be saved by the power of social networking! It is a great way to motivate people, and libraries facing budget cuts need to show that the public is on our side. This article highlights how different systems have used social media to their advantage.
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Let's stop with the depressing news, though. Ever wonder what the library you used as a kid is up to? I grew up in Peabody, MA, and just for fun, I sometimes check out their events calendar (maybe it's a librarian thing). They've got some great events, including an upcoming cooking class (with samples!): Creative Feast: Healthy Vegetarian Cooking for One or Two with a local chef. I should tell my mom to go -- she'd love it!
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Maybe cooking's not your thing. Or, maybe you don't live in Massachusetts. How about knitting? Try out the Knit Night at the Cameron Village Library in downtown Raleigh. Bring your own supplies and make something to donate to a local charity. You'll feel great and meet great new people!
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What does your library card look like? Growing up, mine was blue and white, and my current system uses bright yellow. Take a picture of yours and share it here in the comments, or send it to The Traveling Librarian, where you can see library cards from all over the country and the world.
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I missed the chance last week to highlight a silent auction featuring lots of great writers, musicians, and artists, benefiting the Iowa City Public Libraries, and I could just kick myself! But I am able to tell you about an upcoming fundraiser that sounds amazing, especially if you want to flex your crafting muscles: their 4th Annual Altered Books Exhibit and Sale. Grab an old book and turn it into a work of art, or just ooh and aah over the amazing talents by attending the fundraiser in June. Never heard of an altered book? See what you've been missing.
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Hate reading? Hate books, and think they are having a deleterious effect on our children? Check out this tongue-in-cheek article expressing that viewpoint. You'll never look at Horton Hears a Who! the same way again.
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Speaking of children's books, one children's literature blogger took it upon herself to compile the Top 100 Best Children's Novels (from an extensive poll). Here's the result. See what you think about it, and leave a comment with your favorite novel was as a kid. Mine was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I'm happy to see it as #5. I'm also proud to say that I have read all the books on the list (well, I couldn't get through Little Women, but got the general idea). How many have you read?
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As always, holler back and tell me what great things your library system is doing, and maybe you'll make it into next week's column! Email atthelibraries@gmail.com.

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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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