Original image

At the Libraries: Your Weekly Round-Up

Original image

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!

I got a note from a librarian at the Clearwater (FL) Public Library System. They are kicking off their Summer Reading Program next Tuesday at the Main Library with Nick Schuyler. Ring a bell? He was the lone survivor of a boating accident that claimed the lives of NFL players Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith. Get all the info you need here (opens PDF) for what promises to be an emotional reading.

Heresy! Or, why public libraries might need a swift kick in the pants right now. I'm inclined to say that we are hard workers and needed in our community, but OK, there might be some dead weight out there. What do you think?
Only in Vegas, or more specifically, the Las Vegas/Clark County Public Library, would you have an event called "An Evening with Beth Raymer: Boxing, Professional Sports Gambling and a Hot New Memoir."

I knew they did some crazy stuff in Colorado, but the Anythink library system in Adams County is new to me! Not your everyday public library, Anythink is presenting a great summer series. Sounds pretty awesome: "Through hands-on programming, creative outlets and sparks of imagination, you can make this summer anything you want it to be."
How might the oil spill impact your health, and the health of your community? A reader in Mobile, AL, tipped me off to a great forum the Mobile Public Library is having this Saturday called "Community Conversations on Public Health and Chemical Exposure."
The Richmond Public Library is currently pushing The Library of Virginia's People's Choice Award: Vote for your favorite in fiction and non-fiction (if you're a Virginia resident, n'est-ce pas!) and let your voice be heard.
Leaving aside the whole "should we spend money on public libraries" question, what about censorship? Specifically, do libraries have the right to filter the internet on their computers? I'd bet those most public libraries do filter their computers (mine does, and even blocks MySpace), but should they? Add to the discussion.
And speaking of censorship, there are some books that just shouldn't be allowed. I don't mean sex manuals or The Anarchist's Cookbook. I'm talking about John Gotti, Jr.'s upcoming children's book. That's right: John Gotti. His cellmate did the illustrations. Weep now for the future of literature.
But some children's books should get wider exposure! I'm not always an advocate for movie adaptations, but, as an eternal optimist, I hope for the best. Let's see what they do with the 2009 Newbery Medal winner, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

I'll leave you with an amazing video. Check out the iSchool at the University of Washington's Gaga-inspired research song. That's right, Librarians Do Gaga. (Via Boing Boing.)
* * * * * *
Thanks for all your comments and emails. Email me and let me know what your hometown is, and I'll try to feature your library in an upcoming column. I know there are some states that I haven't hit yet!

See previous installments of At the Libraries here.


Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

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