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5 Ways to Find More Time to Read

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May is Get Caught Reading month, a nationwide campaign dedicated to reminding people how fun it is to get lost in a good book. Most of us are so starved for time, though, reading often seems like a luxury. However, there are a few clever ways you can squeeze more time for reading in between your work, gym, and sleep time.

1. MAKE IT A MORNING RITUAL.

It’s painfully easy to reach for your phone first thing in the morning to scroll through emails, headlines, and Instagram. Rather than start your day in work or news mode, put down the phone and pick up a book instead.

"For me, it is important to get in the right frame of mind before the noise of the day begins. That's why I get up at 5 a.m. so that I can read something inspirational before the kids get up and the daily responsibilities start,” says Brooke Thomas, an author and business owner. “It's easier to absorb what I'm reading when I am not tired and the house is quiet.”

Thomas says that this ritual helps her start each day mindfully and with a positive attitude that tends to stick with her throughout the day. Don’t see yourself waking up at the crack of dawn? Read during your commute instead. If you take public transportation to get to work, your commute is the perfect time to open a book or turn on your Kindle. If you drive to work, look into audiobooks. You can download them to your phone, then connect them to your car stereo to turn rush hour into story hour.

2. CARRY A BOOK WHEREVER YOU GO.

“The hands-down easiest way to make more time to read is to always carry something to read,” says Gretchen Skalka, a consultant and coach from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Skalka says we live in a service economy, which means we spend a lot of our time waiting, whether it’s at the doctor’s office, getting a pedicure, waiting in line for coffee, or sitting at the laundromat. These are perfect opportunities for reading, Skalka says. “Think of how many times you've been annoyed, or been in the presence of someone who was annoyed, over a wait for some type of service. Why be annoyed? Why not read?”

Over at Harvard Business Review, author Neil Pasricha recounts a story about Stephen King making good use of this strategy. Pasricha writes:

A good friend once told me a story that really stuck with me. He said Stephen King had advised people to read something like five hours a day. My friend said, “You know, that’s baloney. Who can do that?” But then, years later, he found himself in Maine on vacation. He was waiting in line outside a movie theater with his girlfriend, and who should be waiting in front of him? Stephen King! His nose was in a book the whole time in line. When they got into the theater, Stephen King was still reading as the lights dimmed. When the lights came up, he pulled his book open right away. He even read as he was leaving.

If you don’t want to carry a physical book, you can always download ebooks or bookmark articles on your mobile devices. This way, you’ll still have access when you don't have WiFi.

3. TRACK YOUR TIME.

We spend our time much the same way we spend our money: We don’t have much of it, and we’re not sure where it goes. To remedy this, track your time, says Lisa Gessert, a professional organizer and Productivity Consultant in Staten Island, New York.

“The key to finding more time in your day is to keep track of your day for one week,” Gessert says. “I will bet you spend way too much time on things that just don't matter. Social media, getting ready for work. Monitor your days for one week and see where you are losing your time. For example, I bet social media takes up way too much time in your day. You will find the time to read more when you let go of the other time sinks in your life.”

Free tools like RescueTime and Hours can help you identify these time sinks by automatically tracking how you spend your time online. You can get a detailed view of exactly which sites and apps you use the most. Chances are, you’ll be surprised at how much time you spend in certain areas.

4. START SMALL.

“Set aside 10 minutes to read. Just 10 minutes,” says Skalka. “You'll be surprised how much you can read in 10 minutes—and the sense of accomplishment stays with you all day.”

Skalka recommends setting an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to take regular 10-minute reading breaks. She also suggests reading when you’re eating breakfast or lunch alone. Again, this is a great way to trade your rushed, frazzled start to the day with a calming ritual.

5. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS.

Finally, keep track of your progress with your new habit. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to keep up with it. Sites like Habitica make this fun by turning your goal into a game. The more you read, the more points you earn.

Skalka also recommends Goodreads, a social networking site for avid readers. “You can use an app like Goodreads to keep track of what you're reading, what you've already read, what you'd like to read—and it's social, so you can use the app to keep in touch with what other folks are reading and talking about.”

That social factor is a good way to hold yourself accountable, too. Let other people know what you’re reading, and you’ll likely feel more pressure to actually finish the book. But remember: Reading is supposed to be fun, so find something you want to read in the first place.

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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