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At the Libraries: World's Strongest Librarian

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Each month Miss Kathleen provides links to a variety of stories about libraries, authors, and books. If there’s something noteworthy going on in your local library, leave us a comment!

Best Christmas decoration ever!
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I know you guys love libraries, or you wouldn't be reading this column! So here's a great survey that asks YOU what aspects you'd like to see some pretty important people (ahem, Gates Foundation) spend money on. It's your chance to speak up!
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I didn't even know there was a medal for libraries! These worthy libraries are this year's winners.
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A librarian collects tiny books with authors' signatures and, of course, there is a tumblr for it! (Thanks once again to Fuse 8 for the link.)
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Is this the World's Strongest Librarian? Probably. I mean, I am pretty strong, but this guy does seem stronger.
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I know we are ready to put Superstorm Sandy behind us, but I think libraries' role in helping communities deserves to be highlighted. Yay libraries!

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Halloween is well over, but if you like a scare, maybe you should check out a supposedly haunted library in Rochester, NY. I'm too much of a wimp, but if you go, please let us all know.
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I love a good year's best list, don't you? Check out what books are getting the nod from Amazon, The New York Times, and Publisher's Weekly, to start. So what was your favorite book this year? I am leaning toward The Age of Miracles myself.
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And if that isn't enough gift-giving inspiration, we now move to the best-gifts-for-book-lovers portion of this month's column:

Does the reader in your life also love The Smiths? Yeah, thought so.


I will happily accept any book from the Biblio-Mat or the machine itself, if there are any big spenders out there! (Thanks to Ken and others for the link.)


Or how about a wine cabinet made out of a card catalog? A thousand times YES!


Who doesn't love a librarian with a tattoo? What about a whole calendar full of them?

Or just a literary tattoo in general? BoingBoing has some inspiration for ya. (Thanks, Joe!)

And find a few more great gift ideas here.

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Let's rounds this out with an inspiring TEDx talk from children's lit rock star Jarrett Krosoczka (if you haven't read Punk Farm put it on your wish list!) about how he attained his dream job.
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Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone has a great holiday season. See you next month, and as always, please email me if you've got great library or literary news to share!

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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