CLOSE
Original image

People Ferment The Darndest Things: Indigenous Alcoholic Treats

Original image

No matter where you call home, there's a good chance that one of your neighbors is busy making some kind of booze. Brewing, distilling, and winemaking are nearly universal activities, and folks will ferment just about anything.

1. If you want to try traditional chicha, go to Peru or Bolivia, where women chew corn flour and then spit it into bowls. Enzymes in their saliva help break down the sugars in the corn. Chicha tastes tart and can be white, yellow, red, purple, or even black depending on the corn used. Today you can buy a liter of this favorite drink of the Incas for about 10 cents in bars called chicherias.

Kumiss.jpg2. Kumiss is a Mongolian specialty made from horse's milk. It's not very alcoholic, though—only about 2%—so you're going to have to drink a lot of kumiss to get a buzz. But that's exactly what nomadic Mongolians do, downing gallons of the stuff during high kumiss season. We may be hearing more about kumiss in the future: Japanese scientists have discovered that it can dramatically lower your cholesterol.

3. Sahti is an ancient Finnish beer still being made in the traditional way on farms. It is filtered and spiced with juniper branches, and every August there's a brewing competition that helps keep this national homebrew alive. The winner is called the "Holder of the Haarikka," with the haarikka in question being ceremonial wooden bucket used—you guessed it!—for drinking sahti. Commercial breweries have also gotten in on the action: In Finland you can also go out and buy a three-liter box of sahti.

Read on for eleven more indigenous alcoholic beverages from around the world...

masato.jpg4. Manioc, also known as cassava and yucca, is a worldwide staple, especially in South America, where many cultures have developed beers from this tuber. You'd think it would be dangerous, because manioc contains cyanide, but local women know how to remove the poison through careful preparation. In Peru, manioc beer is called masato. In Guyana, it's parakari. In Suriname, it's cassiri and is said to be warm, sour, and dense. In Ecuador, it's nihamanchi. The locals drink it like water, up to four gallons a day for men. They also make a high-alcohol version for ceremonies.

Shakparo.jpg5. Shakparo is a sorghum beer from Benin, West Africa, where every kitchen contains a brewery. Producing this sour, fruity brown-pink beer is an essential skill that every mother teaches to her daughter as a rite of passage. Though it's men who drink most of the shakparo, a woman was assured a certain level of status if she knows how to make it. Like many of the other beers mentioned here, shakparo is now produced commercially and has been celebrated by folks with gluten allergies because it contains no wheat.

And here are nine other beverages for your next booze fest (including root beer for the kids and teetotalers)...

"¢ Europeans settling on the American frontier were used to drinking beer every day, but they didn't have key Old World ingredients like barley or malt. So instead they used roots to make root beer, from which our familiar soft drink has descended.

"¢ Hard apple cider was a staple drink on the American frontier, consumed by adults and children alike. Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman was planting apple trees for cider, not for eating. We know this because apple trees grown from seed produce funky and often inedible apples, and the best way to salvage them is to make cider. If you want to grow edible apples, you do so by grafting from existing trees.

somersetperry.jpgPerry is a hard cider made from pears.

Ginger beer was originally alcoholic. It was quite popular in the U.S. until Prohibition stamped it out.

Arrack is a Sri Lankan liquor made by fermenting and blending the nectar of coconut palms. A "toddy tapper" climbs from tree to tree on ropes harvesting the nectar.

Brem is a rice wine native to Bali.

Wine made from the fruit of the saguaro cactus of the Sonoran Desert plays an important role in Native American rituals.

Banana beer is popular throughout Africa.

Tesquino, the yellow, harsh corn beer of the Tarahumara people of Mexico, is considered a highly spiritual drink. It's supposed to scare out the "large souls" out of the body, leaving the "little souls," which, they says, explains why drunk people act childish.

So, what exotic cocktails have gotten you drunk?

Weird Science Correspondent Chris Weber is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
iStock
Animals
arrow
Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image
iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES