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10 Guided Journals for Organized Self-Improvement

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amazon / istock

The blank pages of a new journal can be intimidating. Fend off a creativity block with books that are full of prompts and activities, designed to help you practice mindfulness and stretch your creativity. Here are a few journals that will guide you through a project you can reflect on for years to come.

1. JOURNAL SPARKS: FIRE UP YOUR CREATIVITY WITH SPONTANEOUS ART, WILD WRITING, AND INVENTIVE THINKING; $12

Emily K. Neuburger encourages thinking outside the box with this journal. The book’s 60 writing prompts and projects promise to spark creativity and the use of imagination. This vibrant journal is suited for people of all ages who want to record the inner workings of their minds by artistic means.

Find It: Amazon

2. BEST OF SUMMER YEARBOOK AND JOURNAL; $10

Help your little one get the most out of the warmer season with this journal of art projects and activities. Though it's aimed toward children, this diary gets everyone involved in completing projects and filling in the funny prompts, and features activities that will last the whole summer.

Find It: Amazon

3. DRAW EVERY DAY, DRAW EVERY WAY: SKETCH, PAINT, AND DOODLE THROUGH ONE CREATIVE YEAR; $12

Colorful and creative, this journal acts as a canvas for a year’s worth of drawing prompts. All 365 pages, divided up into themed months, offer tutorials on how to best utilize the different types of paper. The journal also features tips on the best pens and pencils to use for any aspiring artist.

Find It: Amazon

4. Q&A A DAY: 5-YEAR JOURNAL; $14

Have you ever wondered how much you’ve changed over time? Here’s an opportunity to take stock. Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal offers a question for every day of the year. Revisit and answer the questions each year as you build something that you’ll be able to reflect on over the years.

Find It: Amazon

5. WRECK THIS JOURNAL; $10

Keri Smith’s journal presents unconventional instructions: Destroy the pages. Mistakes are celebrated in this book through prompts like poking holes through pages and painting with coffee—all of which result in a messy masterpiece.

Find It: Amazon

6. 1 PAGE AT A TIME: A DAILY CREATIVE COMPANION; $10

With its simple formula and 365 witty prompts, this journal invites readers to remember the past, record the present, and dream about the future. By the the time you finish, you'll be an archive of memories from the year.

Find It: Amazon

7. FINISH THIS BOOK; $10

This book may be authored by Keri Smith, but the reader is the one who does the real storytelling. Smith’s journal offers puzzles and storytelling opportunities for anyone who likes a good mystery. Complete instructions in the spy-manual looking pages as the story unfolds.

Find It: Amazon

8. I LOVE SCIENCE: A JOURNAL FOR SELF-DISCOVERY AND BIG IDEAS; $10

Mindfulness through discovery, that's the idea behind this journal. Its pages feature detailed infographics, quotes from famous female scientists, and plenty of room for the journaling of thoughts and experiments.

Find It: Amazon

9. ADULT-ISH: RECORD YOUR HIGHS AND LOWS ON THE ROAD TO THE REAL WORLD; $15

Christina Vanko’s journal is a good fit for anyone who’s about to start living on their own. Featuring doodles and prompts, each page provides a space for young adults to record the trials, triumphs, and firsts of living independently. Once the book is filled, the author will be able to relive how they got to the place where they are now.

Find It: Amazon

10. WHAT'S YOUR COLOR STORY? A GUIDED JOURNAL COLORING BOOK TO SPARK YOUR CREATIVE ENERGY AND IGNITE YOUR LOVE OF COLOR; $8

Think like an artist: Acting as a coloring book and a journal, this book explores the reader’s relationship with color. Fill the pages and explore thoughts and feelings across the whole spectrum.

Find It: Amazon

11. JANE-A-DAY 5 YEAR JOURNAL; $17

This journal is a must-have for any Jane Austen fan. The pages within the regal cover are prompted with an Austen quote for every day of the year. Reflect on the work of your favorite author as you fill out this book.

Find It: ThinkGeek

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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