CLOSE
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!

Jezebel has some great recommendations for guilty-pleasure reading this summer. I just put Valley of the Dolls on hold! What's your beach book?
*
One of my favorite blogs, Awful Library Books, has dug up another gem. Check out Makeup For Fun and its terrifying accompanying photos. Sure to induce nightmares for kids of all ages!
*
Speaking of summer reads, does the word Mockingjay mean anything to you? That's the 3rd and final book in the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, and teens of America will be clamoring for it. It might just knock Steig Larsson off the top of the bestseller lists -- it's already cracked Amazon's Top Ten and its release is still weeks away.
*
Shelf Check is another great library comic (and a "shelf check" is what we do when we check and see if a book is on the shelf or not and trust me, it often is not, despite what the catalog says). Here's a recent one and I can attest that this is an accurate reflection of how my storytime kids are, too. Ah, the innocence of youth.

*
I admit, I was proud of myself after putting together my ALA video, which we featured last week. But then I saw another video, also done by a children's librarian. And, well, it's way better (and shorter!). For a much quicker recap, fancy captions and all, you should check out 100 Scope Notes:

Another amazing ALA thing that I missed was the Book Cart Drill Team contest. Check out this entry—Night of the Living Librarians:

This, together with the Lady Gaga send-up a few weeks back, just goes to show that library school students have too much time on their hands! Back to work, future librarians!
*
Back to serious subjects. Fox News Chicago asked a provocative question—are libraries a waste of tax money? It gets asked every few years, so it's nothing a librarian hasn't heard before. But it got a strong reaction from one library commissioner. I am biased, but did she do a good job of justifying libraries' use of public money?
*

Okay, this is awesome. A rare book in the Van Pelt Library at U Penn is bound in human skin! Anthropodermic binding was relatively commonplace in medical schools in the late 1800s. So fascinating.
*
Have you heard of AskAway? This now-defunct Canadian program "let patrons from all over the province ask questions of librarians online, in real time, and receive an immediate answer." My library is thinking about starting something similar. Do you think you'd use it?
*
Last but not least, and oldie but a goodie: Library Science Jargon that Sounds Dirty. Some of it is a bit of a stretch, but, well, anything can sound dirty if you think about it too long.

Email Miss Kathleen to let her know what your library is up to—atthelibraries@gmail.com. See previous installments of At the Libraries here.

twitterbanner.jpg

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES