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The Quick 10: 10 Girl Scout Cookie Crumbs

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Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies straight from the freezer"¦ is there anything better than that? I'm kind of salivating a little bit just thinking about them. Mmm. Anyway, you've probably noticed that it's that time of year again, and if I've got cookies on the brain, you guys are going to, too. You're welcome!

cookies
1. The cookies started out being baked in the ovens of various troop members. The first Girl Scout cookie sale on record took place in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in a high school cafeteria in 1917. At the time, a basic sugar cookie recipe was used and the cookies were packaged in wax paper bags and sealed with a sticker.
2. In 1933, you could buy one package for $0.23 or six for $1.24.
3. The cookies first started being commercially baked in 1934
and the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia were the first to go that route.
4. During WWII when there were shortages of sugar, butter and flour in the U.S., the Girl Scouts sold calendars instead.
5. In 1951, the consumer had only three Girl Scout Cookie options: Sandwich (like an Oreo, I suppose?), Shortbread and Chocolate Mint, which we know as the Thin Mint today. By '56, they had added a vanilla sandwich cookie as well.

mint6. Thin Mints are the current best sellers, comprising 25 percent of sales. Samoas (ew, coconut) trail behind at 19 percent, Tagalongs come in at 13%, Do-si-dos at 11% and Trefoils at 9%. The other 23% is made up of all of the other varieties.
7. Elizabeth Brinton is known as the "Cookie Queen." She sold more than 100,000 boxes of cookies over her Girl Scout career and more than 18,000 in one season alone. She was the first to abandon the door-to-door method and set up a booth in a high-traffic area (the D.C. metro stations). When asked the secret to her success, one of her responses was, "You've got to look them in the eye and make them feel guilty."
8. Girl Scout cookies are kosher.
9. Only two bakers in America are licensed to make the cookies: ABC/Interbake Foods and Little Brownie Bakes.

10. You can make the early sugar cookie version yourself, if you want:

AN EARLY GIRL SCOUT COOKIE® RECIPE
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar plus additional amount for topping (optional)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Cream butter and the cup of sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking powder. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll dough, cut into trefoil shapes, and sprinkle sugar on top, if desired. Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Makes six- to seven-dozen cookies.

What's your favorite Girl Scout Cookie? I think I've made mine clear, but the Lemonades are pretty yummy too, and I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at a Trefoil.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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]

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