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Dietribes: A Little Donkey

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"¢ Have you had a little donkey today? Aside from the certainty of its literal translation, the origins of the burrito are highly disputed (although we can be sure they never contained actual donkey meat ... but after that, anything goes). Peter Fox of the Washington Post notes, in his quest to find the true origins of the burrito, "As we followed the historical trail, and got closer and closer to the source, the burritos became smaller and smaller, and our favorite ingredients disappeared one by one. When we finally found what we thought was the original burrito, it was very different from the burritos we knew and loved. The burrito's evolution seemed like a cross-generational version of the children's game of telephone, in which a message is passed through so many people that the message at the end is completely different from the original."

"¢ In Mexico, burritos typically consist of refried beans, Spanish rice, or meat in a small tortilla, whereas in the United States fillings might include a combination of ingredients such as Spanish rice, beans, lettuce, salsa, meat, guacamole, cheese, and sour cream, and, like many things in American ... is considerably large.

"¢ What exactly IS a burrito? Well, at least we know it's not a sandwich, or so it was ruled by a judge when Panera attempted to thwart a Qdoba Mexican Grill from moving into its shopping center by invoking a clause that prevented other sandwich shops from moving in.

"¢ So what were original burritos like? Fox found, "this humble burrito was very small—maybe 6 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter, a far cry from the hefty burritos we were used to. The meat, while smoky and flavorful, was a little bit dry and chewy, as you might expect dried beef to be [...] I was disappointed, but only for a moment: I realized that all was as it should be [...] but for me, I'll stick with the California style any day." Listen to a clip from Peter's journey to find the original burrito here.

casa-sanchez.jpg"¢ If your dedication to burrito consumption is paramount, consider this deal by Casa Sanchez in San Francisco. In 1999, they offered a lifetime of free burritos if you got their logo tattooed on your arm.

"¢ Burritos can be healthy, nutritious meals. Consider the Burrito Project—Feeding the homeless with burritos, an idea that got rolling thanks to MySpace.

"¢ I'm noticing a trend in these Dietribes ... no matter the food, there always seems to be a related eating competition. So, for those of you with stronger stomachs than mine, information on Competitive Burrito eating.

"¢ Is that a burrito in your pocket, or are you just angry to see me? The story of a New Mexico high school that went into lockdown when a giant burrito was mistaken for a weapon. I like two things about this story: One, that the perp's name is Morrissey (because it would be), and that he's now referred to as "Burrito Boy."

"¢ According to Burrito Brothers founder Peter Fox (the same one mentioned earlier), the classic assemblage of a burrito is as such:
Steam or grill a 12-inch flour tortilla for 30 seconds to soften it up. Then spoon about 1/4 cup salsa, 1/2 cup rice, 1/2 cup beans and 1/2 cup meat down the center of the burrito. Fold 2 to 3 inches of the right and left sides in. Flip the bottom up over the filling, tuck it in and roll up the burrito. Cheese, guacamole, hot sauce or sour cream may be added to the filling as desired.

"¢ Bonus link: Speaking of Little Donkey, for Ricky Gervais podcast fans, here's Karl Pilkington talking about "going down a storm" drumming to Little Donkey.

"¢ OK fellow Flossers, where's your favorite place to pick up a burrito? Here in Atlanta, we often stop by Moe's, especially in the late morning after long nights out. Or, if making your own burrito, what are your favorite ingredients?

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

"˜Dietribes' appears every other 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]