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At the Libraries: Award Winning Children's Books

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It's awards season, and there may not be fancy dresses and television coverage, but the ALA's awards for children's literature always get librarians talking! See what won the Newbery, Caldecott, and more.

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Lance Armstrong is the new James Frey!

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Remember The Giver? You know you read it and loved it. (If you haven't read it, do so! It totally holds up as an adult read.) So, a movie—awesome, or awful?

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Don't click through, just try and guess: What are the five books that inspire the most literary tattoos? I don't know how scientific their survey was because I was sure The Giving Tree would make it!

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Look, I am all for getting people in the library, but ... pole-dancing? Call me a prude but I'm not sure I can stomach that.

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And it's not just across that pond that this is happening ... we've got butchering, bowling, and more right here in our own public libraries! My library always has great success with bake-offs, if you want to try one.

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Read Brave in St. Paul, get to hang with Lady Gaga? Lucky, lucky teens!

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So sweet: A library lends out Kirsten, and the kids love her, of course. She is one of the best American Girls, I must agree. And a follow-up article warms the heart even further

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Not like you need these articulated, because it's pretty obvious, but here are ten excellent reasons to date a bookworm.

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Here are 16 great library scenes from the movies to bring some smiles to your face. This should be a supercut! Someone get on that, please.

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A LOT of you folks sent me links to info about this revolutionary new public library in San Antonio ... that has NO BOOKS! (No physical books, that is; plenty of digital titles on offer, though.)

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Turns out some things Roald Dahl dreamed up could actually happen! This one's for you, James and the Giant Peach fans. (Thanks to 100 Scope Notes for the link!)

* And now for a different list of ten fictional libraries that'd be great to visit (there is some overlap with Miss Cellania's recent links). Go Sunnydale!

* Let's say you want to visit some libraries that actually exist, though. Well, courtesy of the BBC, here's their take on America's five best college libraries. (Thanks to Alex for the link!)

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Here's a funny image for you to kick off the weekend, courtesy of Awful Library Books.

Sometimes the book doesn't like you, either!

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Famous authors and terrible puns? What's not to like?

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Wow! Okay, so there are a lot of creative marriage proposals floating around the web, right? How about this one, in an author's debut children's book? Yup, pretty awesome.

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Guys, I saved the best for last! Oh my heavens, this next piece is utterly delightful: a collection of videos of kids reviewing books at the Cortelyou Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library ... in 1983! There goes your afternoon. 

Make sure you see the Chocolate Fever girl (#5). We totally need a "Where Are They Now" update for these kids! (Thanks to the Hairpin for the link.)

Thanks for reading! I'll be back next month to share lots of library and literary awesomeness with you. Comment or email me if you've got something to add!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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