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At the Libraries: Bookshelf Porn

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Every Wednesday, Miss Kathleen provides links to a variety of stories about libraries, authors, and books. If there's something fun going on in your local library, leave us a comment!

Ah, the many issues that can divide a couple -- he likes e-books, she prefers print. Will they ever make it work?
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Since I work in a library, I already feel like I have every book at my fingertips, so an e-reader just isn't practical for me. In fact, I don't know anyone who has truly transitioned 100% to e-books -- do you? Are you one of them? Please share your perspective with us!
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If you do get an e-book reader, what can you do with all of your old books? Why, turn them into fabulous jewelry, of course! Check out these amazing pieces by Littlefly. Or, you could turn them into book sculptures. Either way, they are gorgeous additions to your home or wardrobe!

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Maybe books aren't on the way out, but what about the publishing industry? Publishers are struggling, and here's some more bad news: marketing guru Seth Godin is giving up on them! "Mr. Godin plans to release subsequent titles himself in electronic books, via print-on-demand or in such formats as audiobooks, apps, PDFs and podcasts." Could this be the future?
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Reading on the wane? Not in this teen's life! Brittany Lopez, 14, won the NYPL's contest by reading a whopping 325 books this summer! She'll go far, especially with an attitude like this: "It helps your creativity. It's not only for entertainment, it helps your knowledge." Congratulations, Brittany! There were some other winners, too -- check out the round-up here.
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Three weeks ago it was book cover voyeurism. This week? Bookshelf Porn. Feast your eyes!
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Friends, I do Storytime every week, and I like to think that I do it well. But I am no Zach Galifianakis. I would have loved to see him reading to kids at his hometown library in North Wilkesboro, NC, this summer! [Image credit: Jerry Lankford/The Record.]
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You can do a lot with Twitter, as Kanye West proves to us again and again. But did you ever think you could write a cihldren's book via Twitter? No? Maybe you should think like NBA player Da'Sean Butler -- he just did it! But I'll save your some money -- you can read the whole thing here. Now get tweeting!
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Every librarian has seen it: the dreaded bowel movement that is not in the toilet where it belongs, but in a book, on the shelves, or just somewhere it really has no right to be. Check out one librarian's essay on his library's "Poo Bandit" and you might just get hooked on a new blog.
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A bunch of libraries are renting out electricity meters to gauge how much power your home uses. Pretty cool idea -- I wish my system had one!
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We recently found out there was going to be a new Peter Rabbit tale (although the why was never properly explained). This week, The Little Prince goes graphic. Could be good, could be ... weird. Who knows?

If you follow a great library blog, site, or twitterer, please share it with me! Hit me at atthelibraries@gmail.com or leave me a comment. 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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