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Dietribes: Eggs

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Eggs. We know where they came from (or started ... or was it the chicken?), so I won't bore you with those details. Instead, here are some amazing facts and figures concerning the incredible, edible egg.

"¢ First, a little nutrition information. The health value of the egg has been exhaustively debated over the past few decades (cholesterol content, whether one should just consume the whites, etc). But the facts remain: though the yolk makes up roughly 34% of an egg's liquid weight, contains all of the fat and a bit less than half of the protein, it also contains a higher proportion of the egg's vitamins, including B6 and B12, folic acid, pantothenic acid and thiamin. Vitamins A, D, E and K are exclusive to the yolk.

"¢ Keeping eggs in cartons is the best way to keep them fresh. An egg's shell is actually porous (with about 17,000 tiny individual pores) so that it absorbs flavors and odors around it.

"¢ Here's an "egg counter" for you: A hen requires 24 to 26 hours to produce an egg. Thirty minutes later, she starts all over again. There are nearly 280 million laying birds in the U.S., each of whom produces 250-300 eggs per year, totally around 75 billions eggs - about 10% of the world's supply.

sonya-thomas.jpeg"¢ At a slight 105 lbs, Sonya Thomas (pictured) holds the record for competitive eating in hard boiled eggs: 65 Hard Boiled Eggs in 6 minutes, 40 seconds!

"¢ "Omelet King" Howard Helmer, Senior National Representative for the American Egg Board, holds three Guinness World Records for omelet making: fastest omelet-maker (427 omelets in 30 minutes); fastest single omelet (42 seconds from whole egg to omelet); and omelet flipping (30 flips in 34 seconds). My mornings would go a great deal faster with him on board.

"¢ Humpty Dumpty may be the most famous egg ... but is there evidence to support his being an egg at all? In the original nursery rhyme, there is no mention of Humpty's egg-ness. While there are various versions of stories of what Humpty Dumpty may represent, the poem might have simply been a riddle whose answer was that Humpty was indeed an egg.

"¢ An "Easter Egg" is often code to mean a surprise. "The first Imperial Easter egg was ordered in 1885 by Czar Alexander II. The monarch gave it to his wife, Maria Feodorovna. Inside it contained a surprise: a golden hen, a small ruby Easter egg, and a diamond replica of the Czar's crown." There are only 50 Imperial Easter Eggs in the world, and range in auction price from $80 million to $120 million in total. The most expensive Faberge egg was sold at a Christie's auction in 2007 for £8.9 million ($16.5 million).

"¢ And finally, for all those who wondered, there is no discernible difference in nutrition, taste, or any other factor than color between a brown egg and a white egg. The color difference is due to the specific breed of hen, according to the Egg Nutrition Center. Hens with white feathers and white earlobes will lay white eggs, whereas hens with red feathers and matching-colored earlobes give us brown eggs.

You know what I'm going to ask ... what's your favorite way to eat an egg?

[Previous Dietribes: Strawberries, Macaroni & Cheese, McIntosh Apples, Smoothies, Coffee and The Sweet Potato.]

"˜Dietribes' appears every Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]