CLOSE
Original image

At the Libraries: The Best Lists of the Best Books

Original image

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!

Seems like there are a lot of amazing, artistic bookshelves out there. I love seeing their pictures, so if you ever stumble across one, please share. Here's a gorgeous one, though I would take issue with its practicality.
*
Is one bookshelf photo not enough for you? How about a whole blog devoted to bookshelves? Yeah, that's more like it!
*
Some good news after all the awful bullying business we've been hearing so much about lately: the ALA is creating the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award. One guess as to what it honors. Yes, there are a lot of niche prizes out there, but I'm not going to quibble with this one. Maybe it will encourage more books in this genre.
*
The Hunger Games craze thus summer may have died down some, but it's it'll heat up again once the movie opens. In the meantime, get your fix with tweets from the "real" Peeta: and HG quotes.

*
Librarians, and library students, here is a very, very long article about why the US needs to start a digital library. I haven't had time to read it yet, so if you do, wanna summarize it for me in the comments? I'll submit your name for Librarian of the Year!
*
What's this "Librarian of the Year" thing? No, it's not something that I made up, I promise. It's a real award, sponsored by Library Journal. Surely there is someone doing loads of good in your community who deserves national recognition. Um, gotta hurry, because the deadline is tonight!
*
It's that time of year again, when editors' thoughts turn to "Best Books" lists, and people start leafing through bookshops looking for some great gifts. Publishers Weekly has put out their list of the best books, and, my personal favorite, best children's books. Which books have you read?
*
The New York Times is doing it, too. Here's their holiday guide to the best illustrated children's books.
*
Speaking of gorgeously illustrated children's books, surely you all know illustrator extraordinaire Maira Kalman. Well, check out this video, where she redecorates a media center in a public elementary school. Lucky school!
*
Here's one more video for you to close out this week. Who could possibly compete with The Most Interesting Man in the World? Why, The Most Interesting Librarian in the World, that's who! Check out her story:

If you follow a great library blog, site, or twitterer, please share it with me! Send your tips to atthelibraries@gmail.com or leave me a comment. See previous installments of At the Libraries here.

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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
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]

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