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At the Libraries: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Fights Obesity

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Every week, 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!

Have you guys heard about this UCLA library rant? Yeah, not so nice. The chancellor has even stepped in. There are lots of other response videos posted on YouTube. Wouldn't want to be that girl right now!
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Do you remember the Mr. Men and Little Miss books, by Roger Hargreaves? They are back, and it looks like they finally have the reviewer they deserve! One Hamilton Richardson has reviewed several on Amazon and has some impressive insight, such as "Hargreaves may well pay homage to Kafka and Orwell in this work, but he also goes beyond them." Indeed!
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And another childhood favorite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is now a part of a national anti-obesity campaign. Yes, he does indeed eat a lot, but there's a lesson here, just in time for National Nutrition Month (oh, didn't you know? March is NNM).
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A new library opening right now is definitely a cause for celebration! But this library is especially exciting -- take a peek at the "library of the future" right here!

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Literary tattoos is another category that continues to impress me. Some of these tattoos are serious commitments!
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Just when I think I've exhausted the links of people making art with books, I am wowed once again. Feast your eyes on this amazing list.
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Funny or Die has a great collection of videos, and now they are expanding their empire! This definitely sounds promising. Look for their first title this summer.
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Get your geek on while supporting the libraries you love at this great website. Come on, you read this column, so I know you know how to get your geek on, and I am right there with you!
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And back to childhood books, I'm sure you are all familiar with Shel Silverstein. He may have died in 1999, but that hasn't stopped new books of his from coming out. A while back, we had Runny Babbit. Now there's another "new" book coming out in September. He's the Tupac of kidlit!
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We may have missed World Book Day (March 2, apparently), but these cookies must be seen. What delicious creativity! (By the by, Owl Babies is one of my favorites, if you happen to have young children.)
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I'm always up for a photo list of amazing libraries, aren't you? Here are some real beauties. Anyone ever been to one of these? (Thanks Sara!)

Don't forget to nominate your favorite blogs for our At the Libraries Blog of the Month! I'll announce my new favorite next week. Send your tips to atthelibraries@gmail.com. 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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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