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The Quick 10: 10 Weird Caffeinated Products

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As a new mom, I’m a fan of caffeine. I mean, I liked it before. But now it’s a godsend. I prefer my caffeine in the normal formats, though – Diet Coke, lattes, most forms of chocolate. If you’re more of a risk-taker, though, here are 10 items to try.

1. Water. Soda’s bad for your teeth, a lot of people don’t like the taste of coffee, and those energy drinks just seem bad for you. What does that leave? Water. Water Joe has the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee or a 12-ounce soft drink. And if that’s not enough for you, the folks over at Water Joe suggest brewing your coffee with their product for “supercharged hypercoffee.”

2. Snack Puffs. Engobi Energy puffs are infused with a little kick. OK, a lot of kick: each 1.5 ounce bag has more than double the amount of caffeine in a Red Bull. Reviewers say the two flavors – Cinnamon Surge and Lemon Lift – are incredibly sugary to counter the bitter caffeine taste.

3. Brownies. Yeah, I know, chocolate already has caffeine. But these have even more. A bakery in Ames, Iowa (home to Iowa State University) called “A Snack in the Face” makes a brownie that… well, smacks you in the face with 200 mg of caffeine, just a little bit more than a short (8 oz.) coffee from Starbucks. In the name of research, I will try one this weekend and let you know how they are.

4. Soap. You can find several caffeine-infused soaps on the market, from Shower Shock to Bath Buzz. But the results seem questionable at best. Most research shows that the awake feeling users get after use may be because of the power of suggestion and the peppermint smell that accompanies most caffeinated soaps... not the results of the stimulant actually sinking in through your skin.

5. Stockings. One Australian company says the caffeine they put in their pantyhose can help keep cellulite at bay. I have my doubts.

6. Lollipops. And not just fruit-flavored or coffee flavored… Bacon-Maple caffeinated lollipops. Each one contains the equivalent of two cups of coffee. They also make a coffee flavor and a cola flavor.

7. Marshmallows. Each Stay-Puft Marshmallow (yup, they’re a Ghostbusters-licensed product) contains a whopping 100 mg of caffeine. Plop a few of those bad boys in your hot chocolate and you’re good to go for a while. Or whip up a batch of Rice Krispie treats that you’ll definitely want to avoid giving your kids.

8. Beer. Sure – mix uppers with downers. Apparently several companies thought this was a great idea, and not just small start-up companies: Budweiser debuted B{+E} beer in 2004. The caffeinated beers have been coming under scrutiny as of late, though: California is looking to ban the potentially hazardous combo.

9. Beef jerky. Appropriately called “Perky Jerky,” you have to wonder if the creators of this stuff hit on the name first and then decided to roll with it. Because what other reason could you have for wanting to caffeinate dried meat? OK, OK… I guess it’s been a big hit with the hiking set.

10. Cereal. Chowing down on a bowl of Captain Buzz’s Spazztroids in the morning is just like drinking about a cup and a half of coffee. Or it would be, if it had been a real product. This fake cereal was briefly posted on ThinkGeek on April Fool’s Day a couple of years ago, but give it time – someone will surely start developing it any day now.

Have you tried any of these or any weird caffeinated products in general? Give us your review in the comments!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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