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10 Excellent Bookstore Cats

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Not all bookstores have cats: the big chains don't have cats, and some mom and pop stores keep their cats at home, so if you are allergic to cats, you can still find a place to browse for reading material. But you'll find resident cats in many independent bookstores because they are nice to curl up with (just like a good book), they don't eat the merchandise, and they protect the premises from rodents who will eat the merchandise. Let's be honest, though - this list has more than ten cats. What it is is a list of ten bookstores that have cats.

1. Ralph

Mudsock Books & Curiosity Shoppe in Fishers, Indiana sells books, games, and children's toys. The resident cat Ralph is another draw, as he has quite a few fans. And he doesn't mind posing for a picture. Photograph by Flickr user Phil Jern.

2. Mojo, Molly, and Cupcake

Awesome Books in Pittsburgh has several cats. Pictured here are Cupcake Slim and Mojo. Mojo is the ginger cat; I know because there are other pictures of Mojo with his lion haircut. The third store cat is named Molly.

3. Parit

Pegasus Books in Berkeley, California, is proud of all the pets that belong to their staff, but Parit lives at the downtown store. This photograph was taken by an avid Parit fan who is also a blogger.

4. Sam and Trouble

The Other Change of Hobbit is a science fiction and fantasy bookstore in Berkeley. They have two cats, Sam and Trouble. Sam is the more outgoing of the two, and will jump on the shoulders of customers if given a chance.

5. Ginger

Orinda Books in Orinda, California features their bookstore cat right on the website's home page. They welcome you to come in and pet Ginger, who is accustomed to customers. Here you see her drawing attention to a table of books for sale. Photograph by Karen Lile.

6. Spike

Left Bank Books in St. Louis is home to Spike. Spike has his own page at the store's website, with an interview and some of his literary recommendations.

7. Hawaiian Bookstore Cats

Ed and Cat - Talk Story Bookstore

Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe, Hawaii is the sole bookstore on the island of Kauai and the westernmost bookstore in the United States. Owners Ed and Cynthia Justus are credited with revitalizing the small town of Hanapepe, and have a restoration project going for other downtown buildings. Talk Story Bookstore has three cats, whose names are not recorded online. Here you see owner Ed Justus with one of the cats. Photograph by Flickr user brewbooks.

8. AlleyCat

The American Book Center in Amsterdam has an auxiliary clubhouse nearby call the ABC Treehouse. AlleyCat lives there, and has her own Facebook page, where her activities and interests are both listed as "eating." Photograph by Harald Seiwert.

9. Dante Kot

Then there is Dante, who is quite the celebrity in Poland. Dante lives at a secondhand bookstore in Wroclaw. My Polish is rusty, and Babelfish translates "secondhand books" into "scientific antiques," so I haven't found much about the bookstore itself, but Dante has his own blog, and his own Facebook page, where he interacts with fans and other internet cats -in Polish.

10. Heterochromatic Cat

Love Her -Eyes- 4 of 4 -Bangalore-najeebkhan@hotmail.com

There's not much information available, but I couldn't resist this picture of a colorful white cat who lives in a bookstore in Bangalore, India. Her name is not recorded, but aren't those eyes something else? Photograph by Flickr user najeebkhan2009.

This list was inspired by a post at Metafilter which linked all five previous mental_floss Bookstore Cat posts, and where I found comments leading me to several of today's entries.

If your favorite bookstore cat isn't listed here, it may be found in one of the previous posts, 12 Bookstore Cats, 8 Bookstore Cats, Our Readers’ Favorite Bookstore Cats (Volume One), Our Readers’ Favorite Bookstore Cats (Volume Two), or Our Readers’ Favorite Bookstore Cats (Volume Three).

See also: 8 Library Cats

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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