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9 Delightful Library Cats

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Libraries are quiet places visited by children and literary-minded people and sometimes the occasional mouse. That makes them wonderful places for cats to hang out. Many libraries have resident cats that become quite the local characters -and sometimes even famous! We posted about some of them before; now here are nine more library cats.

1. Tober

Tober lives at the Thorntown Public Library in Thorntown, Indiana. Librarian Karen Niemeyer adopted Tober in 2008, but her dogs had a problem with that, so Tober took up residence in the library. He says:

I have one Assistant Boss and a bunch of Assistant Assistant Bosses, one of whom is a Lergic. Apparently Lergics can't be around Cats a whole lot, but luckily I don't bother them too much, because all sorts of Lergics visit the Library and don't even know I live here.

You can follow Tober's continuing adventures on his blog.

2. Andy

Andy Being Festive 1

The Schoharie Free Library in Schoharie, New York has a lovely ginger cat named Andy. Since at least 2007, he has been spending time at the library and charming patrons although he officially lives at a nearby home. Those days ended when the library was damaged by hurricane Irene in 2011. The library has been rebuilding since, and Andy came for a visit to inspect the progress just this week. Photograph by Flickr user Schoharie Library.

3. Page

The Cazenovia Public Library in Cazenovia, New York had always welcomed cats. The current library cat Page has been welcoming patrons to the library since 2009.

4. Libris

Playing

Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia has a library cat at its Willet Memorial Library.  The current cat Libris was a feral feline adopted to replace the longtime library cat Squeakers, who passed on in 2008. Photograph by Flickr user Courtney McGough.

5. Sandy Rankine

Sandy Rankine, VUW Library cat (#369)

The Central Library of the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand had a cat named Sandy Rankine for many years. Sandy suffered from diabetes in his later years, but library patrons and fans did what they could to help with his medical needs. Photograph by Flickr user Jonathan Ah Kit.

Update: Sandy's passing in 2010 was mourned by his many fans. (Thanks, dg!)

6. Cauli Le Chat

The Mooresville Public Library in Mooresville, Indiana is home to Cauli Le Chat, who is sometimes called Kit Cauliflower due to ear damage from a fight. She does not live at the library full time, but goes home with an employee at night. During the day, she is the library's "roving reporter," lending her name to a blog about everything that goes on at the library. Cauli also has an alter-ego, a cardboard cutout of herself called Flat Five (short for Cauli V), which travels to other libraries and interesting places.

7. Piper

The Arkansas School for the Blind has a formal library cat program that goes back more than ten years! It was a natural idea, as librarian Susan Loesch is also involved with the organization Feline Rescue and Rehome. It all started with Piper, a kitten rescued from a drainpipe in 2000. Piper moved into the library, interacted with the students, and even lent his name to the prizes for the accelerated reading program. He was soon joined by Big Footsie in 2001. Current cats at the library include Alex, Shadow, and Bob.

8. Browser

The library in Pine River, Minnesota, welcomed Browser in 2002, and he has been going strong ever since. Browser has his own blog and Facebook page.

9. Porter C. Bibliocat

Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg, Tennessee named the cat Porter C. Bibliocat, whose visage graces the library's Facebook page. Porter was named after the library's founder, and the "C" stands for "Catalog." He was adopted in 2009. There were some complaints about a cat in the library, but the board decided Porter would stay, although if a patron requests, Porter will be taken to a secluded area while they browse the books.

See more library cats in our previous post 8 Library Cats, and you may also enjoy our extensive series on Bookstore Cats.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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