CLOSE
Original image

A Brief History of Swedish Fish

Original image

The friendly Swedish Fish are a staple of the US candy scene, a denizen of nearly every movie theater counter and convenience store. But where did they come from? And why fish? Why not Swedish Reindeer? Or Geese? There isn't a lot of research on Swedish Fish out there, but here's what we got:

In the Beginning"¦

Out of the primordial ooze of the sugar sea, from whence the flora and fauna of the gummy earth have evolved, come the Swedish Fish. The Swedish Fish belongs to the genus of wine gums, a firmer version of gummy candy that, rather disappointingly, contains no wine, but is still extremely popular in Europe. It is also one of the few gummy-like candies that does not contain gelatin, making it an actually vegetarian food.

fishiesThe Fish first washed up on US shores in the late 1950s, an import from Swedish confectionery company Malaco. At the time, Malaco was looking to expand into North America with its varieties of wine gum and licorice-based candies. The fish-shaped candies—called "Swedish Fish" because, well, they were Swedish and the fishing industry in Sweden was very large—were developed specifically for the US and Canadian markets and proved almost immediately popular. Swedish Fish then became firmly entrenched in US candy culture in the 1960s and "˜70s.


In the US, Swedish Fish are currently owned and distributed by candy manufacturer Cadbury Adams. The fish come in the traditional "red" flavor, as well as green, orange, purple and yellow, each with the word "Swedish" branded into their side. (At least one person is agitating for an additional color, blue.) According to Cadbury, 7,000 metric tons of Swedish Fish are produced each year; that many fish weigh as much as 1,929 orca whales, they claim.

In Sweden, the fish-shaped wine gums are called "pastellfiskar" ("pale-colored fishes") and are distributed by Malaco; they also come in salmiak, a black salty licorice flavor that is evidently hugely popular in Sweden because it's everywhere.

A Friend You Can Eat

No, this isn't the Swedish version of Alive—it's the tagline for Swedish Fish. (Check out swedishfish.com to see this ad campaign in action.) My personal favorite Swedish Fish commercial is Kitten Sandwich:

Swedish Fish—On Ice

This past summer, with much, much ado, the Philadelphia-based icy treat chain Rita's Water Ice introduced a new flavor to their Italian ice line up. Vaguely cherry-ish and definitely red, the Swedish Fish flavor was available for only a limited time, but it made an indelible mark on the Swedish Fish-loving populace. Bloggers dedicated much virtual ink to the terrifyingly red concoction.

It Was This Big!

big-fishWhile not commercially available, this giant Swedish Fish—really, a fish-shaped gummy—weighed in at six pounds and was the expression of a brother's love for his sister. This does seem exactly like the kind of thing a brother would make for his sister on the occasion of her birth. [Read the whole story over at CrunchGear.]

What About Real Swedish Fish?

Fish are a major part of the Swedish diet, which shouldn't be too surprising, given that Sweden is home to one of the world's major archipelagos. But there's one Swedish fish dish that isn't likely to leave Swedish shores. Surstromming is a traditional dish that is essentially fermented herring that's been left to rot for several months in big barrels, before being tinned. The delicacy has been banned from several major airlines for its incredibly strong smell and the potential that the tins might actually explode in pressurized conditions.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
fun
arrow
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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES