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15 Spectacular Libraries in Europe

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We've posted photos of gorgeous libraries before, but we just can’t get enough of these stunning book repositories. For those of you who share this opinion, here are fifteen of the most beautiful libraries throughout Europe, in no particular order.

Trinity College Library, Ireland

Aside from being absolutely gorgeous, with two story dark wooden arches, this is also the largest library in all of Ireland. It serves as the country’s copyright library, where a copy of all new books and periodicals must be sent when they apply for copyright protection. The library is also home to the famous Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript created by Celtic monks around the year 800.

Image courtesy of Irish Welcome Tours' Flickr stream.

Bristol Central Library, England

This library, completed in 1906, is fascinating for its unique combination of architectural styles. The front exterior was designed in Tudor Revival and Modern Movement styles in order to allow it to harmonize with the next door Abbey Gatehouse. It was built on a slope, and the front of the building is only three stories tall. But thanks to the two basement levels built into the hill, the back of the building has five stories, and features a much more plain design than that of the front. Inside, the design is mostly Classical, featuring ample arches, marble flooring and a stunning turquoise glass mosaic at the entrance hall.

Image courtesy of Steve Cadman's Flickr stream.

Codrington Library, England

The Codrington Library of Oxford University was completed in 1751 and has been used by scholars ever since. In the late 1990s, the building underwent a massive renovation in order to provide better protection for the books and to make the library more user friendly with better wiring and some new electronic work stations.

Images courtesy of Miguel Bernas' and Beth Hoffman's Flickr streams.

Bibliothe?que Nationale de France, France

The National Library of France has expanded greatly since new buildings were added to house the collection in 1988. Even so, the old buildings on the Rue de Richelieu are still in use, and are utterly gorgeous as well. These buildings were completed in 1868, and by 1896 the library was the largest book repository in the world, although that record has since been taken from it.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Zubro.

The Library of El Escorial, Spain

This library is located in Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, the historical residence of the king of Spain. Phillip II was responsible for adding the library and most of the books originally held within. The vaulted ceilings were painted with gorgeous frescoes, each representing one of the seven liberal arts: rhetoric, dialectic, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy. These days, the library is a World Heritage Site, and it holds more than 40,000 volumes.

Image courtesy of Jose Maria Cuellar's Flickr stream.

Biblioteca Geral, University of Coimbra, Portugal

The General Library of the University of Coimbra consists of two buildings, the New Building built in 1962, and the Joanina Library built in 1725. The Joanina Library is adorned with Baroque décor and houses the library’s volumes that date from before 1800.

Images courtesy of Taco Ekkel's and Mick L's Flickr streams.

Handelingenkamer, Netherlands

The library of the Dutch Parliament contains every record of parliamentary hearings and discussions. Because it was built before electric lighting made the storage of books a lot safer, the building was constructed with a massive leaded glass dome in the ceiling to allow in light and minimize the need for candles and gas lamps inside the library.

Image courtesy of Jackie Kever's Flickr stream.

Delft University of Technology Library, Netherlands

While modern architecture can often be fascinating and unique, it rarely stands up to more classical designs in terms of beauty. The Delft University of Technology library is a rare exception. With a massive skylight in the ceiling that becomes a steel cone after escaping the confines of the library and an eco-friendly grass-covered roof, the library is both stunning and totally modern.

Images courtesy of Robert Lochner's and Thomas Guignard's Flickr streams.

Abbey Library of St. Gallen, Switzerland

This lovely library is not only the oldest in Switzerland, but one of the oldest and most important monastery libraries in the world, holding over 160,000 volumes, many of which date back as far as the 8th century. The Rococo-styled library is often considered one of the most perfect libraries in the world and has earned the Abbey a place as a World Heritage Site.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia user Stibiwiki.

Admont Abbey Library, Austria

Built in 1776, the Admont Abbey Library is the largest monastery library in the world. The ceiling is adorned with frescoes depicting the stages of human knowledge up until the Divine Revelation. The entire design reflects the ideals and values of the Enlightenment.

Melk Monastery Library, Austria

The Baroque-styled abbey and the library within were completed in 1736 based on designs by Jakob Prandtauer. The library includes a world-famous collection of musical manuscripts and features stunning frescoes by artist Paul Troger.

Austrian National Library, Austria

Austria’s largest library is located in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna and houses over 7.4 million items in its collections. The library was completed in 1723 and features sculptures by Lorenzo Mattielli and Peter Strudel and frescoes by Daniel Gran.

Images courtesy of Craig Elliot's and Jessica Curtin's Flickr streams.

Wiblingen Monastery Library, Germany

This library, completed in 1744, was modeled in the Baroque style after the Austrian National Library, but it is by no means just a cheap imitation of the original, and it certainly stands on its own. Just outside the library there is an inscription reading “In quo omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae,” which translates to “In which are stored all treasures of knowledge and science.”

Image courtesy of volzotan's Flickr stream.

Strahov Monastery Library, Czech Republic

This impressive library collection contains over 200,000 volumes, including just about every important title printed in central Europe by the end of the 18th century. While it started being built up over 860 years ago, both the collection and the building housing the books repeatedly fell victim to fires, plundering and war. In fact, the current building was not erected until 1679, and a second hall was added near the end of the 18th century. The collection continued to be dispersed during periods of Nazism and communist rule, although the library has since managed to recover most of the titles lost during the last century.

As if the gorgeous décor and impressive book collection weren’t impressive enough on their own, the library also has a favorite feature of many geeks –- two secret passageways hidden by bookshelves and opened with fake books.

Images courtesy of Claudia Dias' and James Whitesmith's Flickr streams.

Clementinum National Library, Czech Republic

The series of buildings that make up this National Library owe their inception to an 11th century chapel dedicated to Saint Clement (hence the name), although the buildings you see now were not constructed until much later, when a Jesuit college was built on the location. The Jesuits transferred a number of books to the new college in 1622. The National Library itself was founded in 1781, constructed in a Baroque style, and has served as a copyright library since 1782.

The collection now includes historical examples of Czech literature, special materials relating to Tycho Brahe, and a unique collection of Mozart’s personal effects. In 2005, UNESCO awarded the library their Memory of the World prize.

Image courtesy of Bruno Delzant's Flickr stream.

Have any of you visited any of these stunning libraries? Do you guys have any tips for potential tourists hoping to visit? For those that haven’t been to these locations, what is your favorite library?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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