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Alison Shiman/Will Viles

8 Niche Blogs for Your Enjoyment

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Alison Shiman/Will Viles

Okay, boys and girls, I know you love to read mental_floss because we feed knowledge junkies. But when you just want a laugh, or a smile, or a good pun, there's a world of blogs waiting for you. Some of them only cover one narrow subject, but they manage to find plenty of material on that one subject to please their readers. Here's a bunch you may want to check out.

1. Snack to the Future

Snack to the Future is what you get when you redesign movie posters to make them all about food. Of course, it's more than just the combination: it's all about the pun.

2. Rappers and Cereal

Rappers and Cereal is another Tumblr blog dedicated to a pun. The idea is to redesign an existing cereal to please a rapper who would then endorse it. New entries come slowly, but they always make you laugh. Some entries contain NSFW text.

3. Exploding Actresses

Just what it says on the tin! Exploding Actresses is a blog of movie clips, in both video and gif form, that end with explosions. Only the very squeamish will consider it gory; they are more likely to make you laugh.

4. We Are the 15%

This past May, a Cheerios TV ad featured a family with a black father and a white mother and their cute biracial daughter. The angry reactions to the ad were surprising. Photographer Michael David Murphy and his wife Alyson West (shown here) responded to the backlash by launching the blog We Are the 15%, featuring submitted pictures of multiracial couples and families. The blog has proven to be quite popular, as it now has 31 pages of families that come in all sizes, configurations, and colors.

5. Beer Labels in Motion

I'm not sure what inspired the Tumblr blog Beer Labels in Motion, but I suspect there may have been alcohol involved. Trevor Carmick presents the animated gifs along with a short review of each beer. See, it takes both an interesting label and a distinctive taste. Next time you find yourself staring at a beer label to avoid eye contact with your date, you may be inspired to see movement then and there.

6. Daily Cat Istanbul

Three years ago, Michael Powell and Jürgen Horn embarked on the experiment to live in different places of the world for 91 days and write about them. The two recently left Istanbul, Turkey, where they not only chronicled their own adventures, but built a side project around the many cats in Istanbul. This picture blog is called Daily Cat Istanbul.

CATS CATS CATS - Cats are everywhere in Istanbul and I can't resist taking their picture. Here you will find fresh cat content once a day - maybe even more often!

The cat pictured here was photographed in the Hagia Sophia. Enjoy pages and pages of cat pictures and video. And where are Michael and Jürgen now? They are settling in at their new home in Iceland.

7. Bad Romances

Bad Romances is not so much about bad romance novels, but their covers. These novels are published with many new titles every month put together in a hurry, and the cover art of some show how hectic the process can be …unless the person in charge of art just wants to make it easy on him/herself by taking certain shortcuts. Of course, the titles and tag lines are fair game here as well. Look for the "Objectified Scotsman" trope to be highlighted because it is so common. The "highlighted Highlander," as the case may be.

8. Jony Ive Redesigns Things

Jony Ive is the head of design for Apple. His most recent tweaks of Apple products, particularly iOS 7, lean heavily on bright colors, minimalism, and gradients. Designer Sasha Agapov illustrates that in a satirical Tumblr blog called Jony Ive Redesigns Things. Artists of all kinds submit other products imagined as they were to be redesigned by Ive. The banana here was designed by Alison Shiman; the Abbey Road cover redesign is by Will Viles.

Find more in our previous posts on Niche Blogs.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]