Original image

Dietribes: Spaghetti Junction

Original image

"¢ According to an extensive article on the History of Pasta from the The Atlantic, "the first clear Western reference to boiled noodles is in the Jerusalem Talmud of the fifth century A.D., written in Aramaic. Although, no one disputes that the Chinese have made pasta from many more kinds of flour than Europeans have, since at least 1100 B.C." Of course, spaghetti enjoys such strong ties to Italy that some exported films from the '60s were even called Spaghetti Westerns. Spaghetti has evolved into many things, such as SpaghettiO's, as well as other incarnations ...

"¢ Spaghetti can be tricky to get from plate to mouth, so now there's an invention (which seems to work like an electric toothbrush for spaghetti) to help with twirling the noodles on your fork. But isn't the real trick getting the noodles to stay on?

"¢Â Everyone loves spaghetti. Even ... cats? A random picture of a cat eating spaghetti was shown to cover up a bleeped segment on the show Mike and Juliet during a discussion on the dangers of binge drinking. And it's amazing.

"¢ One of the first instances of television being in on an April Fool's Joke might be in 1957, when the BBC convinced viewers that spaghetti grew on trees ...

"¢Â If you've ever sung "On Top of Spaghetti" (or had it stuck in your head like I do right now), you can thank songwriter Tom Glazer, who wrote what I can definitely say is the most tragically beautiful song made about noodles.


"¢ Perhaps indulge in your pasta on one of Pablo Reinoso's amazing spaghetti benches.

"¢ For more noodles in the every day, admire your local Spaghetti Junction highway (hopefully not while you're sitting on it in traffic). It might look something like this.

"¢ What's a Dietribe without mention of an eating contest? The record for consuming spaghetti amounted to 13.5 lbs of the stuff in 10 minutes, on September 1, 2008, courtesy of Bob Shoudt's stomach at the Skyline Chili Spaghetti Challenge.

What are some of your favorite ways to prepare pasta? I'm a fan of the whole wheat or spinach varieties myself. Anybody tried spaghetti squash?

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.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
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]