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11 Fabulous Libraries in South America

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Last week we toured some of Europe's most beautiful libraries. Now let's see what South America has to offer.

1. The Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Brazil

The Real Gabinete Português de Leitura in Rio de Janeiro holds more Portuguese works than anywhere outside of Portugal, including a number of rare titles. Completed in 1887, the building is adorned in the neomanuelino style based on the Gothic-renaissance style that was popular at the time of the Portuguese discovery of Brazil. Inside the library there is both a stunning chandelier and a gorgeous iron skylight that was the first of its kind in the country.

Images courtesy of Luciano Joaquim's, Sebastian R.'s and Mathieu Struck's Flickr streams.

2. The National Library of Brazil

Another amazing library of Rio, the National Library of Brazil was constructed all the way back in 1810 and has since become the largest library in Latin America and the 7th largest in the world. As a copyright library, publishers have been required to send over one copy of every title they publish all the way since 1907, pushing the library’s collection to over 9 million items, including a number of rare books and an extensive collection of over 21,500 photos all dating from before 1890.

Image courtesy of Patricia Valeria's and Yuken Chen's Flickr streams.

3. The National Library of Chile

Featuring a similar style to the National Library of Brazil, this beautiful building was designed in 1913 and completed in 1925 with a neoclassical design meant to commemorate the country’s centenary anniversary. Aside from housing the National Library, the building serves as headquarters to the country’s National Archives.

Image courtesy of Ejercito de Chile's Flickr stream.

4. The Library of the San Francisco Monastery, Peru

The library in Lima’s San Francisco Monastery is one of the oldest and most beautiful on the continent. The stunning convent was completed in 1672, with renovations and improvements continuing up until 1729. Given how old the library inside is, it should come as no surprise that the 25,000 volumes contained therein are extremely rare, chronicling a massive variety of knowledge dating between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries.

Images courtesy of Sierra Michels Slettvet's and dgphilli's Flickr streams.

5. Home of Peruvian Literature, Peru

If you think the architecture of this building looks familiar, that’s because it was a commonly used design for train stations around the early 1900s. As for why this library looks like a train station, well, that’s simple—it used to be one. In fact, it wasn’t converted into a library until 2009. In an effort to get more of the country’s citizens to read and to support the country’s artists and writers, the library features over 20,000 works, mostly written by or about native Peruvians.

Images courtesy of David Berkowitz's and Chimi Fotos' Flickr streams.

6. Public Library of Lima, Peru

The previous home to the National Library of Peru, the Public Library of Lima was completed in the 1940s with a small addition completed in 1974. It's been declared a historical monument by the country’s National Institute of Culture. The main gallery features marble floors and stairs, sculptures of the library’s founders and gorgeous high ceilings.

Image courtesy of The Librarian is In.

7. National Library Costa Rica

We're cheating by putting this one in South America, as Celeste called us on below. But with a massive upside-down arch above a glass window and concrete levels sandwiching a fragile-looking glass central story, the National Library of Costa Rica is quite striking. It still appears modern despite being over 40 years old. Unfortunately, the location has been subject to a number of earthquakes, leading to a number of closures throughout the years.

Images courtesy of The National Library System of Costa Rica and Alex Watkins' Flickr stream.

8. Virgilio Barco Library, Colombia

Even if you don’t appreciate modern architecture design, you should still tip your cap to Colombia, where a number of massive libraries have been built in the last decade. But if you are a fan of newer building designs, then you’ll really love what the country has created in such a short time. Famed architect Rogelio Salmona designed this library that was completed in 2001. Featuring red brick walls, blue water pools and green lawns, this creative design looks like a maze of colors housing a labyrinth of books inside.

Image courtesy of elroquero's, Seven Notes in Black's and Colombia Travel's Flickr streams.

9. Spanish Park Library, Colombia

The Parque Biblioteca España stands out from its native Santo Domingo more than any other library on this list. That’s because the striking modernist design of these three boulder-like structures stand in stark contrast to the simple homes of the neighborhood around it. Constructed atop a hill and featuring massive offset windows, the building offers amazing unobstructed views of the scenery outside.

The architect designed the building, specifically its odd windows, as a way to help the impoverished community imagine bigger and better things, disconnecting “the people temporarily from their context,” says architect Giancarlo Mazzanti. “We wanted to take people from this poor community into another place and change their reality.”

Image courtesy of Daniel Echeverri's, Felipe Campuzano's and dfinnecy's Flickr streams.

10. EPM Library, Colombia

Designed like an upside-down pyramid, the EPM library, completed in 2005, may be a unique architectural feat, but its best-known feature remains the odd forest of white columns located just outside. Even so, the 107,000 square foot interior is quite beautiful, particularly the strikingly angled walls.

Images courtesy of Guia de Viajes Oficial de Medellin's, HiperBarrio's and Biblioteca EPM's Flickr streams.

11. Villanueva Public Library, Colombia

Perhaps the most famous of Colombia’s new libraries is the Villanueva Public Library, which was constructed using not only locally sourced materials, but also by the people of the village. Stones were gathered by nearby rivers, sustainable wood from nearby forests, and local people were trained to help construct the building. The design, created by four nearby college students, focuses on natural ventilation and plenty of shade to keep the interior nice and cool. All of these cost-cutting measures went a long way in helping a truly impoverished area secure a much-needed library.

Image courtesy of Nicolas Cabrera via Dezeen.

If you happen to know about other striking libraries in South America or have any more information about the locations above, share your knowledge in the comments!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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