Original image

Internet Bacon

Original image

The prevailing lore is that once you discount spam (which we all try to ignore), 98% of the internet is composed of cats, pornography, MySpace, and bacon. Bacon? Yeah, bacon is all over the internet. I first noticed bacon as a shared motif when John Scalzi taped bacon to his cat. It was on his list of "things to do" and some commenters did not believe he'd do it. The cat was the hottest thing on the internet for a while. He later posted a motivational poster summing up the experience.

And why not? Bacon is tasty, fattening, decadent, and in some religions, taboo. A couple of my favorite blogs, The J-Walk Blog and YesButNoButYes have posted so much about bacon that it achieved its own category on both sites. There are entire blogs dedicated to bacon, including The Bacon Show, Bacontarian, Six Degrees of Bacon (not Kevin Bacon), and Bacon Unwrapped. You can keep up with bacon news as it happens. If you broadened your scope to pork or barbecue, no doubt you'll find a lot more bacon resources. After all, this is the Year of the Pig.

More tasty bacon, after the jump.

300_baconcupcake.jpgYou can find hundreds, maybe thousands of bacon recipes, but the most interesting are bacon desserts. You'll find recipes online for Bacon Cookies, Pig Candy, Bacon Baklava, Bacon and Egg Ice Cream, and Maple Bacon Cupcakes (pictured). If you aren't inclined to cook, you can still enjoy bacon sweets for sale on the internet, such as Bacon Mints and Chocolate-Covered Bacon Bits.

Some recipes are hard to classify as dessert, but they are still a bit on the strange side. I'm thinking of Bacon-Wrapped Dates and the Bacon Martini.

baconshoes.jpgIf you are a bacon devotee, you can dress the part. Show up at our next formal occasion with a suit that looks like bacon, and smells like bacon, too! Be warned: dogs may follow you home. Accessorize properly. Converse now has the Chuck Taylor Eggs and Bacon shoes available. There are many ways to wear bacon on your head, including a bacon hat, toupee, and tattoo. Some folks just can't advertize their devotion to bacon enough.

BLT-Candles.jpgBacon addicts can make a home smell like bacon, too! Wake up to the aroma of bacon with the Bacon Alarm Clock, which you've seen here before. Or if you'd rather have a long-lasting scent, this Bacon Candle is just the thing, or you might want to go with the Bacon Air Freshener.

Archie McPhee stocks items you'd never otherwise associate with bacon. You can clean up after a bacon meal with Bacon Flavored Toothpicks, then pay for it with money you keep in your Bacon Wallet. Always keep some Bacon Strip Bandages handy! If you like those items, you'll love the What Would Bacon Do? Spin Folder.

baconbubbles.jpgDogs like bacon, too. For a different treat, get your dog a Bubble Buddy and blow him some Bacon-Scented Bubbles! Recommended by Dave Barry, who loves dogs because "they are morons."

baconcoke.jpgThere are those who craft their online persona according to the lure of bacon. There are songs about bacon. Scientists are studying how to get more pleasure out of bacon. But if you really want to impress a bacon-lover, you can't do better than a gift from the Bacon of the Month Club. After all, reading about bacon is only a pale substitute for eating it.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]