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Strangely Specific: A Roundup of Niche Blogs

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When you want to read about a wide variety of interesting topics, you come here to mental_floss. If you have the time, you might also be interested in seeing some highly-specific blogs that may amuse you for a while. You just might find one with a topic that speaks to your heart and you'll want to follow!

The blog Women Running from Houses is subtitled "judging books by their covers".  Not having read many Gothic romance novels, I had no idea that a woman running away from a house was such a common theme for a book cover! Spectergirl collects such novels, and while admitting that she hasn't read them all (and probably never will), she is a fan of vintage cover illustration. She also has another very specific yet interesting blog called Gay for Lois Lane.

When you see a character in a movie have a flashback to their childhood, you check out how much the child actor looks like the adult actor, don't you? You can do that as much as you want with the blog Kidcasting. It contains pictures of movie characters as both children and adults for your personal comparison. Pictured is Dr. Spencer Reid from the TV show Criminal Minds in both adult and child versions.

Mallory's Clothes documents the styles worn by the '80s fashionista character Mallory Keaton on the TV show Family Ties. Third and Delaware does the same for the less-than-fashionista characters of Roseanne.

The Hair Hall of Fame is a blog that pays tribute to bygone but unforgettable hairstyles -and some modern styles, too!

The tagline for Craftastrophe reads "because handmade isn't always pretty". Now, I've made my share of crafts that went horribly wrong, but I knew better than to post pictures. Many of the entries here seem to be deliberately provocative in the "artsy" sense.

You might think Caught Dead in That would be a fashion blog, but no. This blog documents funny, ugly, or just plain embarrassing tombstones.

Zoo Fashion exists at the intersection of clothing and animals -mostly animal costumes, which includes fashion photo shoots with animals, dressed up pets, and furries. Some images are NSFW.

The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee is a blog by a family who fosters baby kittens for the Humane Society. Contains lots of pictures that may turn you to jelly.

There are lots of cats that blog, or cat lovers who blog as their cats. If you prefer blogging bunnies, check out The Life and Times of Bunnies, by Betsy and Gus. They've even got a streaming "Bunny Cam"!

Things Organized Neatly is a picture blog to will satisfy your inner mom and an oasis for those suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Too bad these PEZ dispenser are not arranged by color. Frosty Insides gives you a glimpse inside other people's refrigerators, which can be reassuring or horrifying. On My Desk features mostly nice, well-organized desks ready to have their pictures made.

Geeky Tattoos features submitted photographs of geek culture tattoos from science fiction, video games, and programming language.

Insanewiches is about nothing but sandwiches, but not just any sandwiches! These are all crazy, meaning over-the-top, outside of our comfort zones, or just plain weird. The sandwich shown has barbecued ribs, hamburger patties, and bacon (of course).

My Jello Americans is a blog dedicated to the art of the Jello shot. And I do mean art, as these shots can look like anything from an ear of corn to fossil insects encased in amber!

The user-submitted slips of paper on Fortune Cookie Fail Blog don't seem like failures as much as attempts at comedy. Some pull it off nicely while others earn a spot here by just being lame. No one is sure whether the comedy in this one is intentional.

You had to wonder how long Men With Meat Names could continue to find fresh content. The answer is three months, after which the blog became less of a "blog" and more of a "museum".

Edible Geography is just what i says on the label. Well, no, not a blog about eating maps, but a combination food and geography blog, with articles about consumables all over the world.

Artificial Owl documents "the most fascinating abandoned man-made creations." The world is full of abandoned places we would never get to see without blogs like this.

Despite the name, Byzantine Blog is not hard to navigate -it's really about Byzantium. And it is updated quite often. History buffs will love it.

Among the hundreds, nay, thousands of music blogs, here is one that focuses on blues songs of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Prewar Blues just might suck up all your time if you like that sort of thing.

I can't even begin to post all the one-subject user-submitted picture blogs. I find myself skipping over many with content that is mainly posed or Photoshopped. Kim Jong Il Looking at Things is different, in that these are all photographs released by the North Korean authorities as news. Dear Leader is constantly posing while inspecting this or that, and the volume of such pictures gives the site a comical but eerie edge.

Blogs about blogs include link blogs. Link blogging is what I do for a living, but some blogs that link blogs can get oddly specific. Sorry I Haven't Posted is composed completely of reposted blog posts from everywhere that start off with an apology for sparse posting.

See also: A Sampling of Niche Blogs
Niche Blogs: Found Photos Edition
Niche Blogs: Focused on Food
Niche Blogs: The English Language
Niche Blogs for Everyone!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.