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In the Can: 6 Canned Foods We're Reluctant to Try

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With hurricane season almost upon us, it's time to start stocking up on bottled water, extra batteries and canned food. But why stick to just beans and corn? Here's a look at some more exotic (read: disugusting!) canned foods we found.

Pork Brains in Milk Gravy

On Heroes, serial killer Sylar gets his powers by eating people's brains. A while it's not clear whether eating pork brains will give you superpowers, eating them will almost certainly give you a heart attack. One serving of the brains contains 1,170 percent of your daily cholesterol intake. It only gets worse if you follow the recipe on the can, which calls for the brains to be served with scrambled eggs. Another serving suggestion on the Internet is to fry the brains in butter and serve with toast, but that's not going to help clear your arteries any more.

fried dace.jpgFried Dace

If pork brains don't appeal to you, but you're still looking to ruin your body, fried dace is a good alternative. The fish is popular in Hong Kong, but also contains plenty of salt, especially when served with black beans. The delicacy might be hard to find now, though; in 2005, the Hong Kong government banned foods with malachite green, a dye used to protect the fish from parasites.

simmenthal.jpgSimmenthal Jellied Beef

Simmenthal is the canned equivalent of mystery meat. The most definitive information out there is this enigmatic statement from the label: "Does not contain meat from Simmenthal cattle." The beef apparently comes from Brazil, rather than Simmenthal, the Alpine region where the stuff is canned. So, what exactly is in the stuff? The cans contain strings of beef in a clear jelly, recommended to be served with olives and cheese on pasta or salad. Other than that, your guess is as good as ours.

Fungus-infected corn, fiddleheads, and assorted weeds all after the jump!


Corn smut. Maize mushrooms. Mexican truffles. Raven excrement. With such pleasant names, it's no surprise that Cuitlacoche has a tumultuous history. The fungus infects corn and turns it black, so most American farmers destroy infected crops. But in Mexico, the fungus is preserved and cooked because of its mushroom-like taste. Advertised as Mexican truffles, recent demand has grown so much that the USDA intervened to allow allow farmers in Pennsylvania and Florida to intentionally infect their corn to sell it to restaurants.


belleofmaine.jpgFiddleheads from Maine are not, as you'd immediately think, crabs, but rather a "unique" vegetable. They're the shoots from the fresh ostrich fern, the only fern that humans can eat! People who like 'em describe the flavor as a mixture of asparagus, okra and spinach. Unlike those other greens, however, when fiddleheads are picked, they're covered in a "brown membrane" so thick that they actually need several rounds of washing before being canned or served. While fiddleheads are usually served seasoned with butter, salt and vinegar, they can also be used in quiches, salads or seafood medleys with shrimp. And despite their tough-to-market name, fiddleheads are surprisingly big sellers. In fact, one company, Belle of Maine, handles between 25 and 30 tons of the fern every year, both fresh and canned.

dandeliongreenslarge.jpg Dandelion Greens

Also from Belle of Maine (which apparently specializes in canning off-kilter veggies) comes dandelion greens. Oddy enough, these are the very same dandelions that always ruin your yard- only more expensive! The greens are best bought in cans, however, because they have such a short harvesting season (after they start growing, but before the plants flower). Whether you enjoy the taste or not, dandelion greens are definitely worth eating; they're rich in vitamins A and C and a cup contains more calcium cup-for-cup than cottage cheese. The greens are very popular in France (not always a solid endorsement for palatable food), where they're often sautéed with bacon and garlic.

Big thanks to Kara Kovalchik for her legwork!

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]