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Ranking 10 Peppers on the Scoville Scale

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I like hot stuff, to a certain extent. I can't tell you what my tolerance on the Scoville scale is or anything, but I'm usually down with some spice. My theory is that because I have no sense of smell, I like things with extreme tastes, whether that be extreme sour, extreme sweet, extreme bitter...you get the point. That being said, I know I can't handle Habaneros other than a little sample, which means I definitely couldn't deal with the #1 pepper on our list. Could you?

naga

1. Naga Jolokia (or Bhut Jolokia)

is about as hot as a pepper gets at 855,000 to 1,050,000 Scoville units (a scientific measure of how hot the pepper is). It's not at the very top of the scale because that spot is reserved for pure capsaicin, the component in hot peppers that make them have that "burn." At the time the pepper was tested for the Scoville scale, the Red Savina was the hottest pepper in the world, and the Bhut Jolokia was found to be nearly twice as hot as that. Yikes! It's reported that just eating just one seed from this scorcher can make your mouth hurt for up to 30 minutes after you consume it. And you had better not get it in your eyes. Just a few weeks ago, an Indian woman set a new Guinness Record (we think; it hasn't officially been recorded yet) by eating 51 of these things in a mere two minutes. No word on if her stomach lining survived or not.

2. The Red Savina

was specifically grown to be a super-hot chili. Frank Garcia of GNS Spices in Walnut, California invented it (or bred it, I guess, would be more accurate), but people have been having trouble growing the Red Savina up to the level of hotness Garcia did, even when they have a certified Red Savina seed. Even so, you can find most Red Savinas somewhere between 350,000 and 580,000 on the Scoville.

3. Habaneros

are as about as hot and I'll go, and even then, I don't enjoy them; I can just tolerate them. They're believed to have originated in the Yucatan and have a bit of a citrus flavor to them. The Bhut Jolokia is often mistaken for a habanero, but you would know the difference as soon as you bit into one. I think the habanero is only (only) 100,000 to 350,000 Scoville units.

4. The Datil pepper

can be called a sweeter, fruitier version of the habanero. But just because it's sweeter doesn't mean it packs less punch: it can go up to 300,000 units on the Scoville just like the Habanero can. It can also be milder, going all the way down to 100,000 units. You can find lots of Datil peppers in the St. Augustine, Florida, area.

rocoto

5. The Rocoto (also locoto) pepper

isn't really found in the U.S. too much. It's common in South American countries and used in their cooking quite a bit. And it's so pretty! It can be a fairly mild pepper at 50,000 Scoville units, which is the equivalent of a really spicy Cayenne pepper, but they can take you by surprise at 250,000 units as well.

6. The Chiltepin pepper

grows in Central America, Mexico and the southwestern U.S. They're just little guys. The pepper is also known as the chile tepin, tepin being a Nahuatl word that means "flea." But don't let their little size fool you! Their heat is intense, measuring between 50,000 and 100,000 Scoville units. But if you can get through the first minute or so, you'll probably be OK: the heat is super strong but subsides quickly.

7. You know the Pequin pepper,

but you may not realize it. It's one of the main ingredients in the Cholula sauce you'll often find at Mexican restaurants. It's not too bad; comparable in heat to the Cayenne at 30,000 to 60,000 Scoville units. But the taste is much different: it's supposed to have a smoky, nutty flavor.

8. The Cayenne pepper

is a bit milder, rating at 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. They're named after the French Guiana city of Cayenne. I'm sure you're familiar with the Cayenne pepper; it's ground and sold as a pretty common spice. Although it's only halfway down on the scale, it's definitely has some kick to it and is too hot for some people.

9. The Serrano pepper

has just a little more kick than a Jalapeño: 10,000 to 20,000 Scoville units. Not bad at all. You can also put some Chipotle peppers in this category, which is really just a Jalapeño that has been dried and treated.

10. Finally, the little old Jalapeño!

At 2,500 to 10,000 Scoville units, it's pretty mild compared to the rest of these guys.

So what's your limit?

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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