CLOSE
Original image

The No-Budget Diners' Guide: How to Survive on Dirt, Bugs, Bark & Leather

Original image

By David Clark

As the economy sputters, everyone's looking for new ways to save on food. So, we've collected a whole bunch of no-budget meal ideas for those of you daring enough to scrimp.

1. Tree Bark

A classic meal of human desperation, tree bark has become a must-have during periods of scarcity. But you don't have to eat it al dente the way termites and beavers do. Inhabitants of the Lapland in Finland, for example, are known to make bread with ground tree bark during cruel winter months, and several Native American groups use tree bark as a dietary supplement. In fact, the Adirondack Mountains derive their name from a derisive term for the Algonquin Indians that means "tree eaters."


Not all bark is equally edible, so you'll have to experiment with your neighborhood flora. Some popular favorites include aspen, birch, willow, maple, and pine—trees common in cities and forests alike. So sharpen your teeth and dig in!

How to Prepare
For the choicest strips of bark, be sure to go for the nutritious, tender inner layer known as the cambium. (Eating the outer bark would be no more pleasant than chomping into your bookshelf.) If some resin or gum oozes out as you pry off the main course, be sure to lap it up for quick energy. Here are a few fun ways to serve tree bark:

"¢ Raw. Shred finely and chew thoroughly.

"¢ Slice it into strips and boil it to make a rustic pasta. Top with sap, dandelion greens, or insect parts (see entry #2). Alternatively, you can add the noodles to a stew.

"¢ Dry and grind into flour. The ground bark is pretty versatile and can be mixed with water into a breakfast gruel, baked into bread, added to soup for extra body, or even guzzled straight like Pixy Stix.

2. Bugs

With more than 10 quintillion of these creepy crawlies infesting the planet, bugs are a virtually limitless source of protein and flavor. Bug eating exists in nearly every culture; in fact, approximately 10 percent of the protein consumed around the world comes from bugs! There are grasshopper tacos, steamed ant eggs, and even fried tarantulas. In the United States, the FDA permits a limited quantity of insect parts in commercial foods, such as five fly maggots per pound of pizza sauce. While most of our bug eating in this country is unintentional, it doesn't have to be.

iStock_000007959403XSmall-cricketHow to Prepare
In general, avoid brightly colored bugs, which tend to be "¨poisonous, and always be sure to remove any shells, wings, or other textural offenses. Also, cook them before eating, to kill off the inevitable parasites. Beyond that, each bug has its own qualities to consider. Here are a few of the more traditional cooking methods:


Crickets and grasshoppers: First, pluck off the barbed legs, because they can chafe your digestive tract. Then, roast the body for a snack that's both crunchy and nutritious.

Ants: Boil for 6 minutes to neutralize the formic acid of the stingers. After that, inhale them by the handful.

Caterpillars: They can give you a mouthful of tiny hairs, like licking a kiwi, so bite off the heads and then squeeze the insides into a pot. Boil and serve warm.

Worms: The dirt from the insides must be removed before they can be eaten. This can be done by starving them for one day, or squeezing out the dirt by hand.

3. Leather

iStock_000003830210XSmall-leatherTransforming your wardrobe into your pantry is simple. Shoes, jackets, and biker pants make meals both fashionable and filling. In fact, in every era, leather has been enjoyed by the starving masses. Indomitable explorers, stranded pirates, famine-stricken peasants, and even emaciated prisoners have downed a shoe or two. Just two years ago, when Chinese miners in Beijing were trapped underground for nearly a week, they survived on nothing but pieces of paper and a leather belt.

How to Prepare
Before cooking, rinse and dice the (preferably undyed) leather, then pound the pieces between stones to tenderize. For a satisfying soup, you can boil the leather until relatively tender, then add seasonings such as dried worms and nettles. Leather can also be chopped up and roasted to make nutritious chips. And remember to drink plenty of water; leather's generally dry as a bone.

4. Dirt

iStock_000000498015XSmall-dirtNo matter how bad the economy gets, there will always be enough dirt to go around. Soil can provide essential minerals. Think of it as a no-budget replacement for your expensive multivitamin supplements. In fact, dirt eating, known as geophagy, is so prevalent in some parts of the world that scientists and anthropologists think that nutritional deficits may bring on the craving. Even in the modern United States, reports persist that poor and rural Southerners still indulge in select soils by the spoonful, a custom that may have been brought over from West Africa.

How to Prepare
The secret to good dirt eating is simply to choose wisely. Soil that is rich in clay tastes the best, and it can be enhanced by adding salt and vinegar. When you find a good source, save some in a plastic bag so you can snack on it all day long. Of course, if you're looking to enjoy the original mud pie, garnishing the meal with a few worms never hurts.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
iStock
arrow
technology
Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
Original image
iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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