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18 Bizarre Self-Proclaimed Capitals of the World

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Lots of places claim to be the world capital of something -- animals, fruits, vegetables, consumer goods, other odds and ends. But sometimes, that something is really, really strange.

1. Pearsonville, California: Hubcap Capital of the World

Image credit: Center for Land Use Interpretation

While Pearsonville, California, only has a population of 17, it’s still the Hubcap Capital of the World due to one woman’s efforts. Lucy Pearson, “The Hubcap Queen,” has collected thousands of hubcaps spread across three separate wrecking yards. The strange collection has led to television appearances for Pearson and made Pearsonville a filming location for several films, television shows, and commercials.

2. Anthony, New Mexico/Texas: Leap Year Capital of the World

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Anthony, a city straddling the border between Texas and New Mexico, started its Worldwide Leap Year Festival for a very simple reason: no one else was doing one. They established the Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club in 1988 and now, every four years, the little city with a dual-identity holds a mass birthday party for anyone and everyone born on February 29th.

3. Scottsboro, Alabama: Lost Luggage Capital of the World

Image credit: Unclaimed Baggage Center

Ever wondered what airlines do with all their unclaimed luggage? They don’t just stuff it all in a huge warehouse. After making every reasonable attempt to find the owner of a piece of cargo, the airlines will typically sell it to Scottsboro’s Unclaimed Baggage Center: a huge store filled with the stuff other people have left behind. The weirdest thing ever found there? Hoggle, David Bowie's dwarf-goblin minion from the 1986 movie Labyrinth.

4. Willow Creek, California: Bigfoot Capital of the World

Image credit: Bigfoot's Blog

A small, mountainous town in Northern California with fewer than 2,000 residents typically wouldn’t be a big draw, but Willow Creek is different. It’s a huge tourist destination for people interested in Bigfoot, with an annual festival, a museum, dozens of statues and murals, and even foot-shaped burgers dedicated to the elusive creature.

5. La Crosse, Kansas: Barbed Wire Capital of the World

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If you're big into devil's rope, head over to the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, located in La Crosse, Kansas. They claim over 2,000 varieties of vintage barbed wire, dioramas, educational films, and antique fencing equipment. The Antique Barbed Wire Society, the group associated with the museum, even has its own magazine if you want to keep up with barbed wire year-round.

6. Bardstown, Kentucky: Bourbon Capital of the World

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If bourbon is your drink, you should make plans to visit Bardstown, Kentucky, where an incredible 97% of all bourbon is made. Their Bourbon Festival, held annually, is six whole days of celebrating the drink and the culture surrounding it. Bardstown is so associated with bourbon that the city has even trademarked its “Bourbon Capital of the World” moniker.

7. Rayne, Louisiana: Frog Capital of the World

Image credit: Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration, 1938

Frogs may not be welcome in your backyard, but they are in Rayne, Louisiana. Formerly a frog exportation center for restaurants worldwide, the town remembers its history with frog murals, statues, and even a yearly Frog Festival, which includes rides and events like the Frog Derby, where frogs dressed in elaborate costumes race against one another.

8. Colon, Michigan: Magic Capital of the World

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When you think of illusions, you probably think of Vegas, but Colon, Michigan, is the real home of magic. Legendary magician Harry Blackstone came to Colon in 1925 and, together with Percy Abbott, started Blackstone Magic Company, later Abbott’s Magic Company. Today, it’s one of the most popular manufacturers of illusions in the world and holds the yearly Abbott’s Get Together magic convention.

9. Dalton, Georgia: Carpet Capital of the World

Image credit: Deej at The World of Deej

You probably have no idea where your carpet comes from, but after reading this you’ll be able to make a pretty good guess: approximately 90% of the world’s carpet comes from the city of Dalton, Georgia. More than 30,000 people are employed by Dalton’s huge carpet industry, which is especially impressive when you consider that the city itself only has a population of just under 35,000.

10. Anoka, Minnesota: Halloween Capital of the World

Image credit: Roxie O. at The Halloween Honey

Today, we take big Halloween celebrations for granted, but back in 1920, it wasn’t really a thing yet. Sick of kids vandalizing everything on Halloween night, the city of Anoka, Minnesota, decided to throw a huge party to keep the youngsters distracted. It worked so well that it became an annual celebration and spread to other cities. By 1937, Congress had officially named Anoka “The Halloween Capital of the World.”

11. Auburn, California: Endurance Capital of the World

It seems like it would be difficult to consider yourself the capital of an abstract concept like “endurance,” but Auburn, California, pulls it off handily. Their Auburn State Park hosts dozens of the toughest endurance-based sporting events in the world every year. From running to biking to horseback riding, Auburn covers the whole spectrum.

12. Binghamton, New York: Carousel Capital of the World

Image credit: seller louloupostcards61 on eBay

The carefree antique carousel is endangered. Fewer than 200 still exist throughout the U.S. and Canada. So, if you want to hit up as many as possible in one trip, head to Binghamton, New York. The city currently holds six of them, each listed on the National Register of Historic Places. One even has Rod Serling’s name carved into it, an event recreated in the “Walking Distance” episode of The Twilight Zone.

13. Beaver, Oklahoma: Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World

Image credit: Beaver Cow Chip News

If you didn’t grow up on a farm, you may not be aware of the phenomenon of cow chip throwing. Simply put, a cow chip is a large, flat, dried piece of cow poop. You take this and throw it as far as you can, like a Frisbee. If that sounds like your idea of a great time, Beaver, Oklahoma, has the world’s largest cow chip throwing competition every April. Knock yourself out!

14. Huntsville, Texas: Execution Capital of the World

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While you may know that Texas executes the most prisoners of any U.S. state, you may not be aware that they all go to the same place to die: the Huntsville Unit, located in Huntsville, Texas. Naturally, their title of “Execution Capital of the World” is unofficial and typically only used by critics of the death penalty, but it is still a fact that more criminals are put to death within those walls than anywhere else in the country.

15. Belleville, Dundee, and Elmwood, Wisconsin: UFO Capitals of the World

Image credit: Flickr user Kables

Traditionally, Roswell, New Mexico, is the place to go for UFOs, but no one told Wisconsin. There are not one, but three UFO Capitals of the World in the Badger State. Belleville, Dundee, and Elmwood, Wisconsin, all lay claim to the title, each at a different end of the state. It’s not just some oversight, either. The three towns have been arguing with each other that they are the true UFO capital for decades.

16. Dyersville, Iowa: Farm Toy Capital of the World

Image credit: Getty Images

Dyersville, Iowa, is known for being the location of the movie Field of Dreams. But Dyersville has another feather in its cap. It’s the location of the National Farm Toy Museum, the largest collection of its kind. The museum attracts approximately 30,000 visitors each year.

17. Bloomer, Wisconsin: Jump Rope Capital of the World

Jump rope isn’t an unusual thing in elementary school gym classes, but in 1960, Bloomer Elementary P.E. teacher Wally Mohrman took it to the next level. He began a speed jump roping contest with his students that continues to this day. Whoever jumps his or her rope the most in the time allotted is the winner. If that sounds interesting to you, be aware that even non-students are eligible to compete these days.

18. Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin: Snowshoe Baseball Capital of the World

Image credit: Lake Tomahawk website

Most towns have their beloved local football teams. Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin, has its beloved Snowshoe Baseball teams. It’s exactly what it sounds like. The players strap snowshoes onto their feet and play a game of baseball. That’s not the weirdest part, though -- they play it in the middle of summer with six to eight inches of sawdust spread over the diamond.

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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.