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9 Very Specific Rules From Real Libraries

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We've all seen signs banning cell phones, food, and drinks. But these rules cover issues that might not be common to all libraries.

1. Keep the door closed due to bats

Rock Creek Flickr

In Charlemont, Massachusetts, the historic Goodnow Hall also houses the public library. If you are having a meeting, make sure you check with the front desk—there’s a rule about making sure you keep the door closed in the meeting room. While that might seem hard-nosed, it’s for a good cause: keeping bats from the building's tower out of the library.

2. No balloons

Don't even think about it! Scouting New York spotted this one at the Yonkers Public Library.

3. Deface materials, face hard time

What is it with Massachusetts, anyway? According to Chapter 266 Section 100 of the general laws, it’s illegal to deface any library materials. Ok, we get that: no doodling. But let’s be serious for a moment. The punishment involves replacing the materials, up to two years in prison, and up to a $1000 fine. Really? For doodles?

4. No unzipped clothes

At the Central Arkansas Library System, librarians decided to tackle a problem head-on. There is a rule about unzipped, unfastened, and unbuttoned clothing, which is designed to curb the tide of indecency. The first question you might want to ask: Just how “unbuttoned” do they mean, and have they seen what teenagers wear?

5. No chewing on headphone cords

A.R. Moore Flickr

At an undisclosed library in Georgia, there’s a rule about chewing on headphone cords. Sure, there are health concerns, depending on which library patron we’re talking about, but a more pressing problem has to do with damage. If too many people break the rule, the library will stop offering headphones altogether.

6. Do not reach across my desk!

At a university library in Manhattan, Kansas, there’s a rule about reaching across the cubicle of one of the staff members. The reason? Apparently, this particular staff person has had a problem with plants tipping and falling. See the full complaint at Passive Aggressive Notes.

7. No bathing

Here’s one to keep in mind if you visit Seattle anytime soon. At the city's public library, it’s illegal to take a bath in the restroom. For those curious about the legalities governing shampooing your hair, changing your clothes, or doing laundry: those are not kosher, either.

8. No re-shelving, even by library majors

LibraryKitty Flickr

Like many libraries, the University of Wisconsin in Madison has a rule about not re-shelving books. But this sign, designed by one of the library's employees and posted on Flickr, was too good to leave out. (Another sign mentions that finding a book reshelved in the wrong place is as difficult as finding Jimmy Hoffa.)

9. No use of library as a commercial business

At the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library in Ohio, you can’t use the library as a place of ongoing commercial business. That means: for accountants or real estate agents, you’re going to have to get a real office. Or move operations over to the local Starbucks.

Or Just Make One Very Broad Rule

Call this one the rule to end all rules: at the South Pasadena Public Library, there’s a sign that reads "No illegal behavior of any type." That pretty much covers it—unless you're in Massachusetts where the rules are a bit more specific.
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We know there are a lot of librarians, library employees, and library enthusiasts out there. What specific or bizarre rules have you encountered?

Sources: Library Signage Pool on Flickr, BuzzFeed, Metafilter.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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