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!

So, how can libraries become the premier job ambition for the next generation? Oklahoma has the answer -- a week-long Information Matrix camp for teens! If you know someone ages 12-14 in the Sooner State, pass this along. Thanks for the tip, Tiffany!
Remember last week, when I told you that John Gotti, Jr. had written a children's book? No one should ever have to read that, but here are Jezebel's picks for who else should give kid lit a try. What do you think?
Some books can be truly harmful, though. Last week, commenter 'G' showed us an example of that -- a child-rearing book that had some fatal advice. Join the discussion here.
I know that lots of people think librarians do nothing but read all day long. Really, we are far too busy for that. But a day where I could do nothing but read? Oh, that would be wonderful. And hey! There happens to be an official Do Nothing But Read Day coming up, on June 27.

Another awesome teen event, this time in Kentucky. Tammy let me know that on July 31, the Marshall County Public Library is going back in time with a Renaissance Faire! Get ye to the library!
OK, now for adults! From May 17 - September 4 check out RACE: Are We So Different? (sponsored by Mayo Clinic, hosted by Rochester (MN) Public Library). The Rochester Public Library has a whole series of community events in conjunction with the exhibit. (Thanks, Virginia!)
So you say books are going to be obsolete, and smart money is on ebooks? Well, what about barcodes inside printed books that work like hyperlinks when photographed? One professor has made it happen. I think it's pretty cool, though I am skeptical as to how useful it would truly be.

I recently went to my husband's college reunion, and one of the things I love to do in a new town is check out their public library. And I have to say, the Princeton (NJ) Public Library kind of blew me away! Great architecture, lots of natural light, and a tile wall! See for yourself above and check out their amazing programs.
The Princeton Library is a great example of what a modern library can look like. But some libraries are housed in gorgeous historical buildings. Here are some beautiful old libraries, complete with turrets!

Grinnell Public Library in Wappingers Falls, NY.

West Chester (PA) Public Library.

Jefferson Market Branch, New York Public Library.
BoingBoing is the kind of site that librarians just love (and I know we're not alone in that) because it covers such a wide spectrum of curiosities. And I can tell that BoingBoing loves librarians, too. Here's a great recent column all about the Library of Congress' latest efforts at digitization, to share its collection with America. Because information wants to be free!
Want to know more about how great librarians are? Check out this book. The author discovered this little-known secret while researching her previous book, about obituaries. Maybe I'm biased, but I'd say the subtitle nails it. Though I do hate the word 'cybrarian.'
* * * * *
Let me hear from you! Email me to tell me what your library is doing, and I'll feature you in an upcoming column. Thanks!

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]