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10 Niche Blogs You Might Enjoy

While you come to mental_floss every day for a variety of posts about history, science, and pop culture, there’s nothing wrong with branching out a bit. The Internet is full of sites like the ones below that cater to narrower interests.

1. CAT COSPLAY OF THE FELINE VARIETY

The three main cat models of Cat Cosplay are paragons of patience. Blogger Meowshawn Lynch and partners are “trained purrfessionals” who have been costuming cats for Renaissance fairs for years. Spock is above; you can find a collage of costumes from their end-of-the-year tournament here; make sure to check the archives for your favorite fandoms.

2. METAL ALBUMS WITH GOOGLY EYES

Metal Albums with Googly Eyes is a straightforward title that delivers exactly that. You’ll be convinced that all metal albums are improved with the addition of googly eyes.

3. FIELDWORKFAIL

FieldWorkFail is an illustrated blog that grew out of the #FieldWorkFail Twitter hashtag. It’s where you’ll find the best stories from scientists about that time their research went south in the most embarrassing way possible. There’s always more to the story, so some of the posts by French illustrator Jim Jourdane have mini-interviews with the scientist. There are tales of exploding blood samples, stumbling upon a drug lab in the jungle, and swallowing fossils, and those are just on the first page. The picture above is based on a story tweeted by Dr. Marissa Parrott

4. LOVE BOAT INSANITY

At Love Boat Insanity, celebrities (and even fictional characters) who never guest-starred on The Love Boat get their chance in these Photoshopped images. It’s like a Fantasy Island for Love Boat fans! There are over 850 so far. Too bad there aren’t plots to go with the pictures.

5. THE JOY OF FIELD RATIONS

French soldiers carrying soup and bread in 1915 // Public domain

The Joy of Field Rations tackles “the history and logistics of food in wartime, particularly in the 20th century.” And it does that in minute detail. Want to make the same bread that French troops carried with them in World War I? You'll find that recipe, plus one for Soviet porridge from World War II, and learn how the British cooked rice inside a piece of bamboo. History and military buffs will love it. It’s not updated often, but what is there is really interesting.

6. THE LAST MESSAGE RECEIVED

The Last Message Received is a profoundly sad Tumblr dedicated to preserving the last message from those who dropped out of another person’s life. There are messages from relationships that ended badly and from people who died, many with stories from the recipient attached. Read at your own risk.

7. RETRO VINTAGE MODERN HIFI

According to the blog Retro Vintage Modern HiFi, sound systems from the 20th century were pretty awesome. Immerse yourself in the world of vacuum tubes, monster speakers, music, and vintage advertising. Contains some nudity past the front page.

8. NOVICE ART BLOGGER

Artificial intelligence may someday annihilate humanity, but, so far, it doesn’t know much about art—at least, that's what we can assume from Novice Art Blogger, a chronicle of attempts by an artificial intelligence program to analyze abstract art. The example above of the work The Corridor by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva from 1950 is accompanied by the program’s critique:

A peacock is standing on top of a wall or a stone wall is lined up in the wild. That reminds me of a large statue of a bird perched on top of a mountain.

The project appears to have ended in 2015. The blog was curated by Matthew Plummer-Fernandez of the University of Toronto's Deep Learning Group.

9. YODER'S COMICS TUMBLR

Comic artist David Yoder has a big project for 2016: He's watching a movie every day, and then reviewing each of them in a 6-panel comic. That’s 366 movies this year (a leap year!), and 366 comics (accompanied by the trailer, if available). Some movies will be new, and some will be old; they'll range from blockbusters to documentaries to kids’ films. You can follow along at Yoder's Comics Tumblr (there won’t be much time for him to create other comics, so for 2016, this will be a niche blog). Electric Boogaloo is shown above.

10. ANIME RECIPES

Watching anime can make you hungry, as the characters often eat right in front of you. Anime Recipes helps you recreate the food in anime for yourself, often with illustrations both from the animation and from the finished recipe. Pictured above are Chocolate Cornets, chocolate-filled pastry shells from the show Lucky Star. The recipe isn't simple, but they do look delicious!

See more niche blogs in our previous posts.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

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

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