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Why Does Turkey Make Me Tired? What Makes Dark Meat Dark?

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Why does turkey make me tired?

Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. In case you're wondering, tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts and a slew of other foods. Some of these, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats "“ That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol "“ What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating "“ Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Why is dark meat dark and white meat white?

Among the many things inside our bodies (guts, black stuff, about fifty Slim Jims), there are two types of muscle fiber: fast twitch and slow twitch. Fast twitch muscle fibers, which contract quickly but consume a lot of energy and fatigue quickly, are used for rapid movements like jumping and sprinting. Slow twitch muscle fibers contract slowly but don't use much energy, and can contract for a long time before fatiguing; they're used for endurance activities.

Most of our muscles are made up of a mix of both slow and fast twitch fibers and, overall, the average human body has about a 50/50 mix of the two. Some people may have a higher percentage of one type or the other from developing those fibers through training and exercise. Some Olympic sprinters have as much as 80% fast twitch fibers and long-distance runners have the same percentage of slow-twitch. Ongoing research says that training can only alter the ratio so much, though. It seems that there's a genetic predisposition for having more of one fiber than another. But let's talk turkey.

The meat we eat from a turkey is turkey muscle, and turkeys have fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, too—though not in the same even mixing we see in humans. The difference between dark meat and white meat is due to the type of muscle fiber that's predominant in the meat and the way that fiber makes energy.

The muscles in turkey legs "“ the dark meat from the thighs and drumsticks "“ are mainly made up of slow twitch fibers, which get their energy from oxygen stored in the fibers by a protein called myoglobin. Myoglobin is a richly pigmented protein, and the more myoglobin there is in the fibers, the darker the meat.

Turkey wings and breasts, the white meat, are mostly made up of fast twitch muscle fibers, which get their energy from glycogen, a polysaccharide of glucose that's stored in the muscle fibers and doesn't have much pigment.

If you've eaten duck breast, you know that it's hardly what you'd call white meat. That's because unlike flightless turkeys, ducks take to the air a lot and have more slow twitch fibers, and more myoglobin, in their wings and breasts.

Thanksgiving by the Numbers

Before we all find a comfortable spot on the couch to curl up in, let's crunch some big numbers that go along with the big meal.

271 million - The estimated number of turkeys raised in the US this year. Of those, 49 million were raised in Minnesota, the leading turkey production state for the year.

$4.3 billion "“ The estimated amount that farmers will make from the sale of all those turkeys.

cranberries-istock.jpg3 "“ The number of places in the US that share a name with the bird. Turkey, Texas, was the most populous in 2007, with 465 residents.

689 million pounds "“ The estimate for US cranberry production this year. Wisconsin comes out on top with 385 million pounds produced.

1.8 billion pounds "“ The total weight of sweet potatoes produced by the major sweet potato producing states last year.

1.1 billion pounds "“ The total weight of the pumpkins produced last year by major pumpkin-producing states, with a value of $117 million. Illinois wiped the floor with the rest of the states' pumpkin patches and led the country with 542 million pounds worth of gourd.

177 million pounds "“ The tart cherry production for 2008, if pumpkin pie isn't your thing.

13.3 pounds "“ The amount of turkey that the average American ate in 2006.

(If you're a numbers geek, these figures came from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, the USDA Economic Research Service and the Census Bureau, all of which have plenty of other fun stats to play with.)

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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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]