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The Quick 10: The Poop on Peeps

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I love Peeps. I don't want them right out of the box, though. I prefer to cut a small slit in the box, then let them sit around for a few days getting a little bit crunchy. That's right: stale Peeps. One of life's little pleasures. But you don't have to have a serious sugar jones to appreciate the value of a Peep. Check out these 10 ways you can make use of the sugar-coated, marshmallow chicks.

peeps1. Peeps aren't just for Easter"¦ but you probably already knew that. There are apparently some people out there that don't realize that Peeps come in more shapes than chicks and bunnies, because Just Born, the company that makes them, has recently adopted the slogan "Peeps: Always in Season." And they are, pretty much. You can get them in Halloween shapes, Christmas shapes, Valentine's Shapes and even Fourth of July shapes. I think they're missing the boat on shamrock Peeps, myself.

2. The Peep-making process is almost totally automated now, but there was a day when each shape was formed by hand. From start to finish, it took 27 hours to make a Peep when they were first introduced to the public in 1953; these days you can have a fresh "˜mallow in your hot little hand in six minutes flat.

3. Peeps aren't just for eating. They're for crafts and experiments as well.

4. According to Just Born's research, my love of stale Peeps isn't very normal. Only 17 percent of people polled liked crunchy Peeps; the other 83 percent take theirs fresh out of the box. To which I say: Have you ever tried it? Give (stale) Peeps a chance.

peepmobile5. The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile may be more well known, but I'd be positively delighted to see a giant Peep speeding down the highway. Also "“ free samples?

6. Peeps have been the best-selling non-chocolate Easter candy for more than a decade.

7. Peep chicks come in several different colors. They were originally just yellow and pink; white wasn't too far behind. Lavender wasn't added until 1995, and blue chicks made their debut in 1998 for Just Born's 75th anniversary. Proving that sometimes the original is still the best, yellow is still the best-selling color.

8. There was a fire in the Peeps part of the Just Born factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1999 that destroyed huge batches of Peep chicks and bunnies. The damaged candy was sold as an animal feed ingredient, but don't worry, Just Born managed to recover in time for their main holiday. I'm happy to report that there were no Peep shortages for the 2000 Easter season. Whew.

9. Think you have the stomach for 102 Peeps in 30 minutes? That's where the record stands at the moment. "The Dennis Gross Sacramento Peep Off" is held annually to try to top this 2003 record. Participants chow down for 30 minutes, then have to sit for five and prove that they can keep all of that sugary goodness down. The most recent winner fell short with only 45 consumed. Celebs like to get in on the Peep contest action as well "“ check out Dane Cook and Jimmy Kimmel competing to see how many Peeps they could fit into their mouths on Jimmy's show last year. I'm not saying it's pretty.

10. Peeps make a pretty good fine art project, too. Miss C. has posted some of the best Peep art for the past couple of years, which you can find here and here.

Do you love Peeps or hate "˜em? Any special technique for eating them? I'm telling you"¦ try them a little stale this year. You won't regret it.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]