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A Fresh Dozen Niche Blogs

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When I notice there's quite a few of something interesting on the internet, I make a list of them and post it here. Other people take a deeper interest in something fairly obscure that happens over and over, and they make a blog about it. Some subjects wear themselves out pretty quickly -in fact, three blogs I jotted down for this list went completely defunct in the short time since. Others keep chugging along, waiting for anyone who is interested in that subject. Here are some more narrowly-focused blogs you might enjoy taking a look at.

1. Have you ever considered socks as an art medium? The anonymous author of a Tumblr blog called Famous album covers recreated with my socks has, and apparently has quite a selection of socks to use! There are two pages of album covers now, and we hope there is more to come.

2. You might argue that dogs can feel shame, or maybe they just seem to be particularly aware when you're angry with them. In any case, putting a sign on them to tell the world of their shame probably won't change the dog's behavior, but it does make for some funny pictures! The Tumblr blog Dogshaming collects those photos to share with the world. Oh yes, and it features the occasional cat, too. Submissions are welcome, and critical comments will be posted for public shaming.

3. Replacement Hipsters is a picture blog featuring snapshots of elderly people with their fashion sense born of a genuine "I could care less what you think" attitude that younger people pay to have dictated to them. And there's nothing more fashionable than a genuine attitude.

4. Sorry I Haven't Posted is composed completely of blog posts from everywhere that start off with an apology for sparse posting. Sometimes they are unnecessary to the point of laughter.

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while but I was busy! So, I will post this afternoon, so look forward to that.

Other times, they catch your attention.

Hey gang. Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I recently had a very, very, very, minor, very, very, very, mild heart attack. I know…it doesn’t matter how many very-verys you put in front of it, it’s still a heart attack.

5. Even when they don't last long, Tumblr blogs are good for getting a quick gallery online. Muppets With People Eyes lasted until the most popular Muppets were published, and they are still creepy.

6. Mo Farah won gold for Great Britain in the Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 meter races, which solidified his status as a national hero. A classic image showing the moment he realized he'd won the second gold medal lent itself to an photo mashup meme, many of which are enshrined in the Tumblr blog Mo Farah Running Away from Things. No, he's not scared, but taken out of context and with the proper menacing background, it sure can look that way!

7. Dull News in Local Newspapers is British based, but has news stories as dull as your hometown paper. Some things are the same the world over. The picture is from a story about a misplaced apostrophe on a temporary banner, and the hubbub it caused.

8. Star Trek Points at Things is taking the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation episode by episode and posting each incident of pointing, in order. Gestures are counted to see which character does the most pointing, and scores are being kept. The blog is now on the seventh episode of season one, so there will be a lot of new pointing in the future.

9. Cats are really good at not knowing their place, at least as far as what humans believe their place is. Photographic evidence of this is at Cats. Where they do not belong. Each entry has almost-sensible commentary of why a cat does not belong in that particular spot.

10. Removies are what you get when you remove one letter from a movie title and make it into something completely different. The resulting posters are found at the Tumblr blog Removies, but the artist so far remains anonymous. There's no shortage of material, as everyone I've presented this idea to can come up with a half-dozen titles off the tops of their heads.

11. Dr. Adorable's Ask-along Blog is a parody of Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog with one difference: this one stars the characters from My Little Pony! Oh, there's another difference in that Dr. Adorable is a continuing project. It's been in business almost a year, with no lack of material in the foreseeable future.

12. The Worst Things for Sale is a product review blog, but only for products that can be mocked mercilessly. The simple chairs shown were described thusly:

These chairs are made out of an exotic material called “Polywood.” I’m not sure what polywood is, but they’re $219,119.00 for a pair, so it must be pretty comfortable to sit on.

The only downside I see is that they’re “some assembly required.” For that price they’d better come with someone to put them together and feed me grapes while I sit in them.

Product links are included, of course. The blog is run by Drew Fairweather, who you might know as the cartoonist behind Toothpaste for Dinner. Some entries are NSFW.

If that's not enough to keep you busy for a while, check out our previous posts on Niche Blogs.

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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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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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