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Library of Congress

11 Rare Children's Books from the Library of Congress

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Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has a collection of books that would make any bookworm turn green with envy. From the world's smallest book (only a measly 1/25 of an inch by 1/25 of an inch and smaller than a period) to a cuneiform tablet dating from 2040 B.C., they've got everything. One of their most interesting collections is their rare children's book library. Visitors can read the books in their entirety from the Library of Congress' online catalog. Here are 11 of our favorites.

1. A Apple Pie by Kate Greenaway (1900)

This book by Kate Greenaway was designed to acquaint children with the alphabet. With simple sentences and elaborate drawings, A Apple Pie is kind of like an old-timey Sesame Street special. The book seems pretty promising as it starts with "A apple pie, B bit it, C cut it," until it gets to the last page, where the last six letters are stuffed onto a single page. Spoiler alert: UVWXYZ "all had a large slice and went off to bed."

2. The Arabian nights: Their Best-Known Tales, edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith; illustrated by Maxfield Parrish (1909)

While some editions of Arabian Nights—also known as One Thousand and One Nights—contain hundreds of stories, this children's edition focuses on the best and brightest of the bunch. The pages of this collection contain the well-known adventures of Aladdin and Sinbad. But don't expect to see this edition in most children's classrooms; the language was translated from Arabic to French to English, and the old-fashioned vocabulary of this edition is a closer cousin to Shakespeare than books like Where the Wild Things Are.

3. The Baby’s Own Aesop: Being the Fables Condensed in Rhyme, With Portable Morals Pictorially Pointed by Walter Crane (1887)

Like The Arabian Nights, The Baby's Own Aesop aims to bring well-known stories to a younger audience. This edition puts Aesop's fables into poems about animals that closely resemble nursery rhymes.

4. The Cheerful Cricket and Others by Jeannette Marks; illustrated By Edith Brown (1907)

In this book, the cheerful cricket and his friends—a crew of insects and other animals—teach children about important life lessons, like sharing and cooperation. For musically inclined families, little sing-alongs wrap up each story for parents to sing with their kids.

5. The Circus Procession by McLoughlin Bros. (1888)

The Ringling Brothers Circus was initially founded in 1884 and likely inspired the printing of McLoughlin Bros' The Circus Procession, which was printed only four years later. The book details a parade of animals and characters, including elephants, kings, and clowns.

6. A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible, or, Select Passages in the Old and New Testaments, Represented with Emblematical Figures, for the Amusement of Youth: Designed Chiefly to Familiarize Tender Age, in a Pleasing and Diverting manner, with Early Ideas of the Holy Scriptures by Isaiah Thomas (1788)

In 18th century America, an important task for youngsters was to become well-acquainted with the books of the Bible. In 1788, Isaiah Thomas published a copy of the religious text that replaced certain words with representative pictures. For instance, instead of using the word "dove" while explaining the story of Noah's ark, a picture of a dove is placed in line with the text. This book is one of the oldest in the Library of Congress' children's book collection.

7. Denslow’s Humpty Dumpty, adapted and illustrated by W.W. Denslow (1903)

We all know how the nursery rhyme goes: "Humpty-Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty-Dumpty had a great fall; All the king's horses, and all the king's men, cannot put Humpty-Dumpty together again." But you might not know that this simple rhyme has an entire backstory to it. In this book, Humpty-Dumpty is introduced as a "smooth, round little chap with a winning smile" and not a care in the world. That is, except for the fact that he wishes he could be hard boiled so his heart wouldn't "wabble." And so the epic story begins.

8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum; illustrated by W.W. Denslow (1900)

This book by Frank Baum captures the famously well-known story of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz—as it was originally published. This book was also illustrated by the same guy who drew for Humpty-Dumpty.

9. The Slant Book by Peter Newell (1910)

One of the most creative titles on the Library of Congress' children's book list, The Slant Book explains all of the misadventures that occur when things are on a slant. (It's also pretty nifty that the book is literally on a slant itself.)

10. Gobolinks, or Shadow-Pictures for Young and Old by Ruth McEnery Stuart and Albert Bigelow Paine (1896)

Gobolinks is probably one of the strangest (and creepiest) titles on the list. Its pages contain different ink splotches that are coupled with well-known stories. (On one page, Little Red Riding-Hood's wolf lurks next to a piece of the story.) The book also explains how to make the inkblot monsters. Back then, making images from inkblots was better known as Klecksography; Rorschach would create the first systematic approach to interpreting inkblots in 1921.

11. A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy, and Pretty Miss Polly by Isaiah Thomas (1787)

A Little Pretty Pocket-Book is the oldest children's book in the Library of Congress' collection and is generally considered to be the first children's book in print. The book also aimed to teach children the basics of the alphabet with short, rhyming poems. When the book was first marketed, it came with either a free ball or pincushion depending on the gender of the child who received the book.

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.