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Heart Shaped Meals for Valentines Day

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We set a day aside for sweethearts to express their love for each other, which sometimes devolves into a "how much will you spend on me?" test. Don't fall into that trap! Real lovers know and understand each other's financial situation. You can express your Valentines sentiments with a little more effort and less money spent by sharing a meal at home. Heart shaped food will tell him or her that you really care. Or at least you'll both have a laugh!

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Let's start with breakfast. Just about any breakfast food can be made into a heart. Fried eggs are easy with a mini heart shaped frying pan. I found this particular pan in prices ranging from about $5 to $71! If you're going to get one, Cancer Research UK is selling them at a decent price (£5.00) and the profits go to cancer research. You can also use an egg mold set into a standard frying pan. Special pans to make heart shaped poached eggs are also out there as well.

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The egg mold can also make heart shaped pancakes. Or you can use a cookie cutter to make heart shapes out of pancakes you've already cooked. Keep that egg mold around to shape potato cakes for dinner.

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Waffles are a sweet breakfast for your sweetie. Make heart shaped waffles with a special waffle iron that gives you several hearts in one waffle. Cut them apart to make the heart obvious, or when it's not Valentines Day, leave them all together. Make this a project for next year, as most vendors are sold out of these gadgets right now.

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Brand your breakfast bread with a message of "I love you" with a toast stamp. Then there's this one, which is a little more direct.

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I once wrote about techniques for growing vegetables in unnatural shapes. At least one Japanese farmer has perfected the art of growing heart shaped watermelons, which cost around $160 each. The watermelon may be unobtainable where you are, but if you thought of it months ago AND live in the tropics or the southern hemisphere where it is now late summer, you could serve a salad with heart shaped cucumber slices you grew yourself in a mold.

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Valentines Day falls on Sunday this year, but plenty of people still go to work. If you're packing a lunch for someone you love, you can still dress it up with heart shapes, like Flickr user amanky. This lunchbox includes jello with heart shaped apple slices, a polenta heart for the meatballs, heart shaped cheese for the snack mix, and candy of course! These clever ideas don't have to be served in a box, either.

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A few chains and possibly your local pizza parlors offer heart shaped pizza in February. If you want to make your own, here are a couple of techniques for shaping the crust just right. Even if you can't get the crust right, a little pepperoni rearranging will do the trick.

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A blgger made a heart shaped meatloaf for Valentines Day, and said it "didn't turn out as romantic as I envisioned." I think it's wonderful, because I know how much trouble meatloaf is. Here's a recipe for heart shaped meatloaf. Of course, when you cut it, the loaf will no longer be heart shaped, so you might want to serve heart shaped potato cakes on the side.

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If you know your way around the kitchen, you might want to try this heart shaped vegan ravioli, stuffed with spinach on a bed of Italian tomato sauce. The recipe is at Vegalicious.

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Make a heart shaped cake for dessert! There are a variety of pans available. As a matter of fact, heart shaped cake pans probably predated any of the other gadgets on this list. But you can make a heart shaped cake even without a special pan. Or do it the easy way and use piping to decorate your cake with hearts, or set candy hearts into the icing. Image by Flickr user r_dawn_dew.

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Even easier than baking a cake, get some cherry or strawberry flavored Jell-O and create a heart shaped gelatin dessert with molds that come in all sizes. You can also get a mold in the shape of a real human heart, with which you can make some anatomically correct desserts, but only if your valentine can handle it. Smaller molds made of silicon can be used for both jello desserts and ice cubes to make your drinks match the rest of your Valentines Day meal.
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Happy Valentines Day! Bon appetit and don't forget to floss.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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