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Biggest, Smallest, Most Expensive: 8 Record-Breaking Books

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Despite the constant predictions that e-books are set to kill traditional publishing, our love affair with the humble print book continues. Books have captured our imagination for centuries, leading to no shortage of record-breakers. Whether it's the longest, smallest, or most valuable, here is a small library of book superlatives:

1. MOST EXPENSIVE BOOK IN THE WORLD

Philippe Kurlapski via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

According to Forbes, Bill Gates owns the most expensive book ever sold. In 1994, Gates paid an astonishing $30.8 million (accounting for inflation, that would be roughly $49.4 million today) for Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester. This original hand-drawn manuscript, compiled between 1506 and 1510 by the Renaissance polymath and artist, is one of only 20 notebooks by da Vinci still in existence. The Codex contains sketches, notes, and ideas, all transcribed in his special right-to-left “mirror writing."

2. MOST VALUABLE BOOK IN THE WORLD

NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) via Wikimedia Comons // CC BY-SA 2.0

The Gutenberg Bible is probably the most valuable book (or type of book) in the world. It was the first book to be printed (c.1455) using modern moveable type, a process that revolutionized the book trade (before that, all books had to be meticulously copied by hand or printed with woodblocks, a process that took many months). Only 180 were originally printed, of which 49 survive today; of these, only 21 are complete. Nearly all Gutenberg Bibles are owned by museums, libraries, or institutions, but such is their rarity and value that if one were to come up for auction on the open market it would likely fetch many millions of dollars.

3. FIRST BOOK PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES

moped and bangos via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, also known as the Bay Psalm Book, was the first book to be printed in what's now the United States. About 1,700 copies were printed during the 17th century by Pilgrims in Massachusetts, but today only 11 copies are known to exist. In 2013, it also became the most expensive book ever sold at auction, after it was purchased for $14,165,000.

4. LARGEST BOOK IN THE WORLD

Wagaung via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The world’s largest book is not a book in the conventional sense, but a series of huge stone tablets surrounding the Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, Myanmar. The more than 700 marble tablets (each one over 5 feet tall and 3-and-a-half feet wide) tell the story of the tipitaka, the central text of Theravāda Buddhism. When built around 1860, the tablets’ dense writing was filled with golden ink and decorated with precious stones, but unfortunately when the British invaded in the 1880s, the soldiers looted the ink and gems.

The Guinness Book of World Records gives a more standard type of book the record—they say the world’s largest book is a 2012 text on the Prophet Muhammad created in Dubai and measuring an impressive 16.40 ft x 26.44 ft.

5. LONGEST BOOK IN THE WORLD

Madeleine de Scudery via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Going by word count, the longest conventionally published book in the world is generally said to be Artamène,ou le Grand Cyrus (Atarmene or Cyrus the Great) a 17th-century romantic novel by Madeleine de Scudery. The 10-volume work has over 10,000 pages and is 2.1 million words long (to give some context, the famously meaty War and Peace contains only around 560,000 words).

6. SMALLEST BOOK IN THE WORLD

Simon Fraser University via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The world’s smallest book is so very tiny it can only be read using an electron microscope. Teeny Ted from Turnip Town was written by Malcolm Douglas Chaplin and was printed using pure crystalline silicon by his brother, Robert, at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada. The 30-page work measures 70 micrometres by 100 micrometres, and is so small it could fit on the width of a human hair.

7. BESTSELLING FICTION BOOK OF ALL TIME

Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, is the bestselling novel of all time, moving an incredible 200 million copies worldwide. More recently, E. L. James’ trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey has breached the 100 million copies sold barrier, and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books have sold over 450 million copies worldwide.

8. BESTSELLING BOOK OF ALL TIME

Anonymous (photo by Adrian Pingston) via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It is safe to say that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time, as it has been widely estimated to have sold over 5 billion copies. It's also been translated in its entirety into over 394 languages (2123 languages have at least one book from the Bible translated into that language) and has been sold all over the world since the very first book came off the printing presses.

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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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