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Tuesday Turnip

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It's time for another whimsical Tuesday Turnip search wherein I type a random phrase and we see what kind of interesting bits of information "turn-up."

Today I typed in "the history of pizza," unearthing the following from a few different sites:pizza.jpg

    • 6th C. BC - At the height of the Persian Empire, it is said that the soldiers of Darius the Great (521-486 B.C.), accustomed to lengthy marches, baked a kind of bread flat upon their shields and then covered it with cheese and dates.
    • 3rd C. BC - Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.), also know as Cato the Elder, wrote the first history of Rome. He wrote about "flat round of dough dressed with olive oil, herbs, and honey baked on stones."
    • 1st C. BC - In "The Aeneid" written by Virgil (70-19 B.C.), it describes the legendary origin of the Roman nation, describing cakes or circles of bread: "Beneath a shady tree, the hero sprad his table on the turf, with cakes of bread; And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed. They sate; and (not without the god's command). Their homely far dispatch'd, the hungry band invade their trenchers next, and soon devour to mend the scenty meal, their cakes of flour...See, we devour the plates on which we fed."
    • Around 1000 AD the word "picea" started to appear in historical records in Italy , it was a circle of dough and the topped with a variety of fillings then baked. The word pizza came into common usage at about the same time.
    • It was some time later before pizza became to be made from leavened dough, as we know it today. At the same time the pita type bread schiacciata was made.
    • Towards the end of the eighteenth Century historical records show an early record of the "Calzone" it was rolled with the stuffing completely encased inside it, and it was then shaped like a crescent, and baked.
    • The pizza as we know it today began to originate in Naples; they were flavored with oil and garlic, cinciielli (a small fish), or anchovies, and mozzarella cheese.
    • Up to 1830 the pizzas were sold from Neapolitan market stalls. The first pizza restaurant was called Port' Alba. It had installed an oven fired by volcanic rock from Mount Vesuvius as these reach the high temperatures that help to make the best pizza.
    • Salvatore di Giacomo, the Naples poet and dramatist, dedicated several poems to pizza.
    • Alexander Dumas, the author of the three musketeers was inspired to write about pizza. Dumas referred to a pizza that was not eaten for eight days. However he had obviously never tried one. He mentions that it was called an "Otto", the Italian word for eight, but in this he got it wrong, it was eaten immediately but the baker got paid eight days later. There were still a few bakers in Naples that carried this tradition until the seventies and it is possible this tradition exits even today.
    • The pizza is a kind of stiacciati which is round in shape and made with bread dough, at first glance it looks like a simple food, but when examined more closely it looks more complicated ". Dumas
    • By the nineteenth century the pizzas in Naples were garnished with pork fat, oil lard cheese, tomatoes and tiny fish, surprisingly enough not the recipe for a winning pizza!
    • The sixteenth century Bourbon queen Maria Carolina loved the tri colored green red and white pizza (the forerunner of the Margherita pizza) so much that she convinced her husband King Ferdinand IV to allow the pizzas to be made in the royal ovens. She had a problem because pizza as a food was associated very much with the peasants.
    • No history of pizza would be complete without the classic story of the pizza Margherita. Modern pizza history was made in 1889 when Queen Margherita Teresa Giovanni, the consort of Umberto I, visited Naples with her king. Don Raffaele Esposito, who owned Pietro Il Pizzaiolo, was asked to prepare a special dish in honour of the Queen's visit. Esposito consulted his wife who was the real pizza expert and together they developed a pizza featuring tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. He named it the Margherita Pizza, after the city's guest of honor.
    • 1905 - Gennaro Lombardi claims to have opened the first United States Pizzeria in New York City at 53 1/2 Spring Street. Lombardo is now known as America's "Patriaca dela Pizza." It wasn't until the early 1930s that he added tables and chairs and sold spaghetti as well.
    • 1943 - Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (a pizza with a flaky crust that rises an inch or more above the plate and surrounds deep piles of toppings) was created by Ike Sewell at his bar and grill called Pizzeria Uno.
    • 1945 - With the stationing of American soldiers in Italy during World War II (1941-1945) came a growing appreciation of pizza. When the soldiers returned from war, they brought with them a taste for pizza.
    • 1948 - The first commercial pizza-pie mix, "Roman Pizza Mix," was produced in Worcester, Massachusetts by Frank A. Fiorello.
    • 1950s - It wasn't until the 1950s that Americans really started noticing pizza. Celebrities of Italian origin, such as Jerry Colonna, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, and baseball star Joe DiMaggio all devoured pizzas. It is also said that the line from the song by famous singer, Dean Martin; "When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that amore" set America singing and eating pizzas.
    • 1957 - Frozen pizzas were introduced and found in local grocery stores. The first was marketed by the Celentano Brothers. Pizza soon became the most popular of all frozen food.

And I'll add that in 2004, yours truly consumed 5 large slices of John's pizza in NYC all by himself. (And was VERY sorry afterward.) What's the most you've ever eaten?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
entertainment
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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]

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