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11 Ironic and Puzzling E-Books

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There are lots of valid reasons why electronic books have been soaring in popularity over the last few years: they’re easier to transport than conventional books, often less expensive, and offer a variety of ways to heighten the reading experience (the ability to record notes, look up words, and so on). However, there are some cases in which a simple good old paper book probably would have made a bit more sense.

1. Living off the Grid
Numerous guides for living off the grid can be had for the popular Kindle or Nook reading devices. And, while some may argue that e-books are ultimately more environmentally friendly since no trees are cut down to create them, I’m sure the irony of a new type of energy dependence isn’t lost on those trying to recharge their e-readers with their own homegrown energy source.

2. The Unabomber Manifesto

When Unabomber Ted Kaczynski penned his 35,000-word manifesto – officially titled Industrial Society and Its Future – it probably wasn’t his aim that it would one day be available in an easily downloadable version for digital consumption. After all, Kaczynski spends most of the essay railing against the “industrial-technological system” and trying to incite a “revolution against technology.”

3. Nook Guides for the Kindle
As with any new technology, there are tons of guides available for Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader. In fact, a lot of them are available as Kindle books. The audience for those seems awfully specific: people that own a Kindle and a Nook, know how to use the Kindle but not the Nook, really want to learn how to use the Nook, refuse to read a paper book and don’t mind how odd they look holding one of each device and repeatedly glancing back and forth from one to the other.

4. Kindle Guides for the Kindle
How do those people described in the previous example learn the Kindle in the first place? Well, they read a guide to the Kindle, of course. And like the Nook guides, these helpful step-by-step Kindle instruction manuals are also available as Kindle books. The question then is: How do you buy the Kindle version of a Kindle guide, open it, and read it so that you can learn how to buy it, open it and read it? It’s a real modern day chicken or egg scenario.

5. Coloring Books
Every child loves a good coloring book. That is, of course, if they’re allowed to actually color in it. I can’t imagine that many parents are handing off their Kindle and a box of crayons to their kid. That means the strangely large number of coloring books available as e-books – like Jeremy Winslow’s Hours of Coloring Fun with Shapes and Patterns – don’t seem like much fun at all.

6. Origami
The e-book version of Origami Kit for Dummies is really appropriately named – considering what actually makes the hardbound version a “kit” and not just a “book” is the fact that it comes complete with “25 sheets of 5x5" origami paper in five fun colours”. They’ve come a long way with digital downloads but somehow I doubt those vibrant paper squares make it to your home – meaning your beautiful paper swans are most likely going to be made out of lined notebook paper.

7. Technophobia
If you suffer from Technophobia – defined as the “abnormal fear of or anxiety about the effects of advanced technology” – and you want to learn more about your condition, you can always download Marc J. Brosnan’s aptly-named book Technophobia right to your Kindle, Nook, iPad, computer or smart phone.

8. The History of the Printing Press
Sit back, relax and enjoy The Story of Gutenberg and the Printing Press via the very technology seeking to make it obsolete.

9. Touch & Feel Books
The Cloth Book Buzzy Bee, Bright Baby Touch & Feel Baby Animals, and Baby Touch & Feel Easter Bunny are among the wonderful books designed to teach toddlers through texture and touch. For some odd reason, they are available in various e-book formats – ensuring that any child that grows up using them will think every animal on Earth feels like glass.

10. A Pocket Guide to Amish Life
While the specific attitudes toward modern technology can vary greatly from one Amish community to another, the vast majority of them would probably agree that a book describing their simplified lifestyle might not best be read on a device that can also scour the internet, make phone calls, play games, and hold thousands of songs.

11. The Office 2012 Day-to-Day Calendar
Sure, Michael Scott, Dwight, Jim, Andy and the rest of the team at Dunder Mifflin aren’t real. But if they were, they would surely implore you to go with the trusty, reliable paper version of this calendar.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]