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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!

Brain Games are all the rage these days. If you live near Prince Frederick, MD, you can join others at the Calvert Library next Saturday and try to slow the inevitable decline. If that's not your thing, how about some afternoon Wii?
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A reader tipped me off to the Cerritos (CA) Public Library, and it is a work of art! You can see all of their photos online, and it is worth the view. Check out the entrance to their children's room!
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In a previous column, I highlighted the 100 Best Children's Novels as voted on and compiled by many bloggers. Turns out that overseas, The Guardian was working on something similar. Here's what they came up with. There are a few similarities, and also a lot of stuff I've never heard of. This compilation seems like one person's opinion, but I can verify that The Odd Egg and The Legend of Captain Crow's Teeth are fabulous!
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So, I'm a librarian, and therefore, a lover of books. I also don't mind a little eye candy now and then. So, a whole gallery of hot guys reading books? Yup, I'm sold.
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Luckily for me, the above is not too racy. One thing we librarians have to deal with is the wealth of, ahem, "adult" material online that our patrons might be looking at. Sometimes they are doing intentionally (and yes, it's gross, and yes, I've had to approach people about it), and sometimes, you can't be sure, like when it's a ten-year-old looking at porn.
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Kids these days, right? At least they are checking out books, though. In fact, libraries in the UK have kids to thank for its most recent increase in circulation. I'd say it probably has to do a lot with Twilight, but hey, at least they are reading!
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OK, now it's time for another fun video. Libraries feature prominently in a lot of movies -- they make a great public setting. Check out how Improv Everywhere paid homage to a great scene from an American classic -- Ghostbusters.
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Reader Melissa from the Foley Center Library at Gonzaga University took me up on my offer and sent a picture of the library faculty acting goofy in the stacks. Don't they look so helpful? If you want to be featured next week, send me a picture of your library!
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A lot of libraries have blogs that highlight different events or resources. Portland (ME) Public Library has a great feature on theirs -- The Friday Brainteaser! I thought this would appeal to you guys.
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Got an idea for an invention? Sure you do! I myself think that there should be a 'fife' (or a 'knork'): a fork with one serrated edge so that to cut things that are too hard for just a fork, but too soft to really require a knife. Just, you know, be careful when putting it in your mouth. If you have an idea you want to patent, and live in the Dallas area, the Dallas Public Library is having an Inventor Workshop to answer all your patent questions! If you patent the knork, just make sure to give me my cut!

That's all for this week. As always, hit me up with events from your library, or join the readers who have sent me pictures of their libraries. You could be featured 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
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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