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12 Bookstore Cats

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Books and cats go together as well as peanut butter and jelly. You could file them under "things that are nice to curl up with" -at the same time! We featured a list of bookstore cats some time ago, but there are many stores with friendly and attractive cats.

1. Amber

Flights of Fantasy bookstore in Colonie, New York has a Facebook fan page for their cats, Miles and Amber, although I believe only Amber is still at the store. She attacks customers with what they call "love bombing".

2. Cleo and 3. Alice

The Dusty Bookshelf has two locations in Kansas, in Manhattan and Lawrence. Of course, that means two bookstore cats. Cleo lives at the Manhattan store, where she likes to sunbathe in the window front, and Alice owns the green chair in the Lawrence store. See more photos of Alice here.

4. Kona

The owners of Bound to be Read Books in Atlanta took in an abandoned and malnourished kitten named Kona in 2005. She loves to climb the bookstore ladder, which once led to a painter spilling latex all over! Kona now "authors" the bookstore's newsletter and has her own Twitter feed.

5. Evinrude and Friends

The Book Barn in Niantic, Connecticut has several cats on site. Their blog mentions the cats Evinrude, Mrs. Howell, Tiger (pictured to the right of his friend Marie), and Frankie. Evinrude was named after the boat motor -not because of his purr, but because he likes the water! Mrs. Howell passed on in 2010. You can see more of the store's cats, past and present, on their Friends page.

6. Asimov

Seek Books in West Roxbury, Massachusetts specializes in science fiction (as well as fantasy and horror), so it's no surprise their cat is named Asimov. He lives at the bookstore full time, since he is too noisy to stay with sleeping people. See more pictures of Asimov (shown here examining his robot series) on the store's Facebook page.

7. Linda

When Skyline Books closed in January, owner Rob Warren worried about what to do with the store's cat Linda. She had been at Skyline for years, after a short career as a hardware store cat. Warren had two other cats at home that might not accept a stranger. Ultimately, he gave the two house cats away and brought Linda home to stay with him in a house full of books. A few months later, he opened Rob Warren Books in a new location.

8. Hayes and 9. Rainer

Spoonbill & Sugartown books in the Williamsburg area of New York City has a black cat and a three-legged tabby. Their names are Hayes and Rainer, but I'm not sure which one is which.

10. Guthrie

The Boston Book Annex has a resident cat named Guthrie. He may have a feline companion, which shall remain nameless because I don't have a name. Update: Commenters Terri and Jin tell us that Guthrie's co-worker is named Wakefield. Image by Flickr user Dana H. Gee.

11. Ripley

The very popular Ripley lived at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. She was a nearly-hairless Sphinx cat born in 2002. Ripley had a calm and gentle disposition, even with children, but when she had enough, she would climb to the top of a bookshelf to watch customers in peace. Sadly, Ripley contracted cancer in 2010 and was euthanized in May. The bookstore set up a memorial blog in her honor. Image by Flickr user Jeremy Fitzhardinge.

12. Sessa

Sessa is the resident cat at Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscripts Company. She receives email from fans and collects pictures of cats that are sent to her.

See also: 8 Library Cats and 8 Bookstore Cats.

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