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Niche Blogs: Focused on Food

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Among the gazillions of food blogs are some that always feature a subject you know and love -as long as you know and love what the blogger has chosen to write about. When a blogger has a passion for a specific subject, they have no trouble finding enough material, no matter how narrow the chosen subject. Even if it's only one particular dish.

"Bento" is Japanese for lunchbox, and "Kyaraben" or "Charaben" means character bento, or lunches that look like works of art. Anna the Red's Bento Factory showcases the finely-crafted box lunches Anna makes for her family. There are now quite a few bento blogs you can use for inspiration.

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Feasting on Art combines food and art in a most unusual way. Famous paintings that feature food are deconstructed so that the recipes of the food depicted can be reproduced. Pictured is Diego Rivera's Woman Grinding Maize, which is accompanied by a recipe for Chipotle Chicken Enchiladas.

500whyyourfat

There's no shortage of excessive foods, and the recent trend of combining rich foods into a overindulgent culinary orgy is a sure way to get attention on the internet (remember the Luther burger?). This is Why You're Fat collects those incidences of outrageous calorie consumption for your amusement. At least it's supposed to be for amusement, but some folks go to this blog for dinner ideas. Shown are Bacon Cheese Turtleburgers, a combination of ground beef, cheese, and bacon with hot dog limbs.

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Suicide Food is the term used for the peculiar food advertising trope that incorporates the animal about to be eaten in a way that suggests they are joyous at the prospect. You know, like a pig enticing you to eat more bacon or sausage. Or a duck serving a platter of duck.

500cupcakes

Cupcakes Take the Cake limits itself to the subject of cupcakes, but has no shortage of material, like recipes, decorating ideas and instructions, cupcake news, and submissions from bakers. Shown are Cheerwine Red Velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, dark chocolate drizzle and maraschino cherries by Flickr user weege.

550_wafflizer We looked at The Pancake Project last week during Pancake Day. A somewhat related blog takes on waffles, whatever they are made of. Waffleizer asks the question, "Will it waffle?" meaning "Can you prepare it in a waffle iron?" Cookies? Eggs? Sure, and plenty of other foods you never considered cooking with a waffle iron.

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Michael Ohlsson is a former vegan who took on a project to try foods from other cultures, including exotic meats. That was over five years ago, and the blog Weird Meat continues to record and review his culinary adventures. Shown is a turtle served in Beijing.

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The blog Black Iron Dude has recipes and food news, but it's mainly about cast iron skillets. In case you didn't know, there is a lot to learn about cast iron cooking, including how to buy a good skillet (new or old), how to season it properly, how to care for your cookware, and best of all, how to cook with it!

400hospitalfood

Hospital Food is a photo blog that shows you what hospital patients are eating all over the world, mostly submitted by readers The pancakes shown were served at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Michigan. What's for School Lunch? is a similar blog with some information about each meal. Both blogs will make you consider moving to France. Fed Up: School Lunch Project is from an anonymous teacher who is eating a school cafeteria lunch every day this school year to showcase the food served and raise awareness of school food before budgets are cut further.

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Bacon Unwrapped is about everything and anything to do with bacon. It's only one food, but the internet offers plenty of material, from recipes and reviews to music and fashion, all about bacon. Believe it or not, the breakfast from the blog pictured here was purchased in Japan and is made of plastic! The Bacon Show features a bacon recipe, every day, forever. See more bacon resources in the mental_floss post Internet Bacon.

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The highly successful Cake Wrecks was created to highlight the rare but often hilarious miscommunications or misspellings on professionally-made cakes (see at least three in this picture). You'll also find decorated cakes in which good intentions went horribly, horribly wrong. And then occasionally there are some really awesome cakes.

See also: A Sampling of Niche Blogs and Niche Blogs: Found Photos Edition.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Weird
Creative Bar Owners in India Build Maze to Skirt New Liquor Laws
June 20, 2017
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Facing a complicated legal maze, a bar in the southern Indian state of Kerala decided to construct a real one to stay in business, according to The Times of India. Aiswarya Bar, a watering hole that sits around 500 feet from a national highway, was threatened in 2016 after India's Supreme Court banned alcohol sales within 1640 feet of state and country-wide expressways to curb drunk driving. Instead of moving or ceasing operation, Aiswarya Bar's proprietors got creative: They used prefabricated concrete to construct a convoluted pathway outside the entrance, which more than tripled the distance from car to bar.

Aiswarya Bar's unorthodox solution technically adhered to the law, so members of the State Excise Administration—which regulates commodities including alcohol—initially seemed to accept the plan.

"We do [not] measure the aerial distance but only the walking distance," a representative told The Times of India. "However, they will be fined for altering the entrance."

Follow-up reports, though, indicate that the bar isn't in the clear quite yet. Other officials reportedly want to measure the distance between the bar and the highway, and not the length of the road to the bar itself.

Amid all the bureaucratic drama, Aiswarya Bar has gained global fame for both metaphorically and literally circumnavigating the law. But as a whole, liquor-serving establishments in India are facing tough times: As Quartz reports, the alcohol ban—which ordered bars, hotels, and pubs along highways to cancel their liquor licenses by April 1, 2017—has resulted in heavy financial losses, and the estimated loss of over 1 million jobs. Aiswarya Bar's owner, who until recently operated as many as nine local bars, is just one of many afflicted entrepreneurs.

Some state governments, which receive a large portion of their total revenue from liquor sales, are now attempting to downgrade the status of their state and national highways. To continue selling liquor in roadside establishments, they're rechristening thoroughfares as "urban roads," "district roads," and "local authority roads." So far, the jury's still out on whether Kerala—the notoriously heavy-drinking state in which Aiswarya Bar is located—will become one of them.

[h/t The Times of India]

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