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9 More Gorgeous European Libraries

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We’ve seen great libraries from all over the world, including a second look at amazing American libraries. Now it’s time for more beautiful libraries in Europe!

1. The Royal Library, Denmark


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The Royal Library is both the national library of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen’s library. It is also the largest library in all of the Nordic countries. The library was founded back in 1648, but its current building was constructed in 1999. In an attempt to keep the stunning old building (which was completed in 1906) in operation during the massive expansion, the new building was added across the street and features three bridges connecting it to the older wing. The new building is nicknamed the “Black Diamond” because it is made up of two black cubes clad in black granite with a massive glass atrium in the middle that allows visitors to look over the beautiful sea just outside.

In addition to the extra library space, the new building also features a concert hall, exhibition spaces, two museums, a bookstore, a restaurant, a café and a roof terrace.

2. Malmo City Library, Sweden

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When this library first opened in 1905, it was housed in a hotel. About 40 years later it was moved into its own building, a castle-inspired structure designed by architects John Smedberg and Fredrik Sundbärg. Since then, two buildings have been added, including a second collection wing known as the “Calendar of Light” and a central entrance to the two buildings, featuring a café and information desk, known as “The Cylinder.”

These days, the library holds over 550,000 different items, and in 2006 it became the first library in the country to lend out video games.

3. Leipzig University Library, Germany


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Founded in 1542, the Leipzig University Library is one of the oldest university libraries in Germany. The library was originally housed in a monastery building before being moved into a stunning neo-renaissance building on campus in 1891. Unfortunately, two-thirds of the building was destroyed in bombings during WWII. The majority of the books survived the destruction but, even so, 42,000 volumes were lost.

For years, only the undamaged left wing was used; the reconstruction of the rest of the building was only completed in 2002. These days, the library holds over 5 million volumes including 8700 manuscripts and 3600 incunabula dating from the 16th century. They also possess the longest and oldest surviving medical manuscript from ancient Egypt, which is dated from 1600 BC.

4. The University Library of Graz, Austria


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The third largest library in Austria, the University Library of Graz, was founded as a Jesuit college library in 1573; it was turned into a state university library in 1773 when the Jesuit order was abolished. In 1885, the library was moved to a new building on the new university campus. Nowadays, the library has almost 3 million books, 2000 manuscripts and 1200 incunabula.

5. Vilnius University Library, Lithuania


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Founded by Jesuits in 1570, the Vilnius University Library is the oldest library in Lithuania and one of the largest—it contains more than 5.4 million volumes. The library was opened to the public in 1804, then closed altogether after the November Uprising of 1831. It wasn’t opened again until 1856 and while it has largely remained opened since then, the library has been victimized by a number of fires as well as plundering during both World Wars.

Over the years, the rare book department has managed to accumulate over 160,000 items dating from between the 15th and 21st centuries and the manuscript department now holds over 265,000 documents; the oldest dates back to 1209.

6. National Library of Finland, Finland


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This national library is also the library of the University of Helsinki. Aside from maintaining a copy of all printed matter created in Finland, the library also has one of the most comprehensive collections of books published in the Russian Empire.

The oldest part of the National Library dates back to 1844; the "new" rotunda addition is still over 100 years old (it was added in 1903). Most of the library’s 3 million item collection, however, is stored underground in the library’s “bookcave.” The main library is one of the best examples of Empire-styled architecture in Finland and features extensive fire planning design innovations—including vaulted ceilings in all the rooms and halls. The rotunda also features fire precautions including a steel and concrete framework.

7. Biblioteca do Palacio e Convento de Mafra I, Portugal

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In the back of this massive palace is a Rococo library, which many consider to be the highlight of the entire structure. The 35,000 leather-bound books in the library’s collection cover the majority of western knowledge dating from the 14th to 19th centuries. The library was well-designed for the protection of books, leaving space between the shelves and the wall to prevent excess humidity from building up, and a bat roost to prevent accumulation of book-eating insects inside the library.

8. Casanata Library, Italy


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Established in 1701, Cardinal Girolamo Casanata ensured that this monastery library, completed the year after the Cardinal’s death, was always open to the public. Even after the library was taken over by the Italian government in 1872, the library has remained available to all Romans. Included in the library’s collection are 64 Greek codices and 230 Hebrew texts, including 5 Samaritan codices. There are over 2000 books printed before 1500 and 6000 manuscripts.

9. Chethems Library, UK


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This Manchester library is the oldest free public library in all of the UK. It was opened as part of Chetham’s Hospital in 1653, according to the will of Humphrey Chetham, for the education of "the sons of honest, industrious and painful parents.” It has remained in continuous use since that time and holds 100,000 volumes, 60,000 of which were printed before 1851. To save the books from any flooding, the library collection is housed on the second story of the building. To prevent any book theft, all the titles were chained to the bookcases—a common practice of the time.

Even though this is a sequel to the first European libraries article, I’m sure there are still a few beautiful ones out there, so if I missed some you think deserve to be mentioned, feel free to tell everyone about them in the comments.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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