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Digest This: 9 Celebrities Who've Written Cookbooks

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You could turn to a celebrity chef if you need a solid recipe, but why ask an expert like Bobby Flay for advice when you can get a recipe from a celebrity who dabbles in the kitchen? Let’s take a look at a few examples from the hot “celebrities writing cookbooks” genre.

1. Cookin' with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price

Yes, rapper Coolio took time out from his busy schedule to drop an expletive-laden cookbook last year. Who could deny the charms of a cookbook that says one of its recipes "easily serves 4 crazy motherf****ers?” The cookbook, which actually gets pretty positive reviews on Amazon for being entertaining, includes such unexpected fusions as Ghettalian (that’s the ghetto version of Italian) and Blasian, for a black-Asian hybrid. What are Coolio’s culinary qualifications? Amazon’s product description screams, “THERE'S ONLY ONE THING THAT COOLIO'S BEEN DOING LONGER THAN RAPPING: COOKING.”


Best Recipe Name: Chicken Lettuce Blunts

2. Patti LaBelle’s Culinary Oeuvre

The Godmother of Soul keeps cranking out cookbooks the way she has churned out hits. In her first effort, 1999’s LaBelle Cuisine, the singer wrote, "From the time I was a little girl I knew there were two things in this world I was born to do: sing and cook."


She’s done quite a bit of cooking, too. After being diagnosed with diabetes, she released 2004’ Patti Labelle's Lite Cuisine: Over 100 Dishes With To-Die-For Taste Made With To-Live-For Recipes. Her third effort, Recipes for the Good Life, dropped in 2008. LaBelle must be on to something; her cookbooks have received overwhelmingly positive reviews.


Best Recipe Name: Say-My-Name Smothered Chicken and Gravy, a nod to LaBelle’s Grammy-nominated 1997 track “When You Talk About Love”

3. J. R.'s Cookbook : True Ringside Tales, BBQ, and Down-Home Recipes by Jim Ross

The longtime WWE announcer published his cookbook in 2003, and in addition to stories of his life around the ring, it’s full of Oklahoma BBQ recipes. The few Amazon reviews it’s gotten don’t reach any sort of consensus, but we particularly love this quote from a negative one: “This book glorifies the WWE, and the WWE glorifies violence and sensuality.” Who would have guessed that a cookbook by a pro wrestling announcer would have the gall to glorify professional wrestling?


Best Recipe Name: So many good ones. Hammerlock Ham Salad? Piledriver Pork Chops? They’re worthy contenders, but Slobberknocker Salmon has to take the title belt.

4. The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the Planet by Alicia Silverstone

The Clueless star has given up meat and dairy forever, and her cookbook “outlines the spectacular benefits of adopting a plant-based diet, from effortless weight loss to clear skin, off-the-chart energy, and smooth digestion.” Smooth digestion sounds tasty, right?


Silverstone’s recipes are written for three groups of eaters: “flirts” are interested in cutting back on meat and dairy, “vegans” are, well, vegans, and “superheroes” go past just being vegan and take on Silverstone’s macrobiotic eating habits.


Best Recipe Name: It appears that Silverstone didn’t go in for cute names here. She’s out to save the planet, you see. Saving the world will almost – but not quite - make up for forcing Batman and Robin on us.

5. Don't Fill Up on the Antipasto: Tony Danza's Father-Son Cookbook by Tony and Marc Danza


In the kitchen, there’s no question over who the boss is. Tony Danza and his son Marc enjoyed cooking together on Tony’s old talk show, so in 2008 they dropped this Italian-American cookbook. It’s gotten solid reviews that praise it for its straightforward approach, and a paperback reprint is even due out next month.


Best Recipe Name: There don’t seem to be any Mona puns, but the Danza men do deliver their Quick for a Date Sauce to help bachelors wow the ladies with tomato sauce.

6. Hot Italian Dish: A Cookbook by Victoria Gotti


Don’t think you need singing, acting, or really any kind of talent to write a celebrity cookbook. You can just be the daughter of a murderous crime boss, become a reality TV star, and then cook to your heart’s content! The book is a collection of Italian standards, which earned it this gem of an Amazon review: “I was expecting some very authentic Italian recipes but instead realized that I'm a much better cook than Victoria Gotti.” To make it worse, Gotti doesn’t even give her dishes funny names. Come on, Victoria. So many easy puns on your dad’s old Teflon Don nickname are just sitting there!

7. Home Cooking with Trisha

Watch your back, Patti LaBelle. Country star Yearwood is coming up quickly in the “singers who release multiple cookbooks” race. In 2008 and again in 2010 Yearwood, teamed with her mother and her sister to publish books of down-home family recipes and comfort food. Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen even features a foreword by Garth Brooks, who probably wasn’t tough to get since he’s married to Yearwood. Although Yearwood doesn’t go in for silly recipe names, her books have been quite successful; the second one was even on the cover of Redbook.

8. The Pat Conroy Cookbook


The author of bestsellers like The Prince of Tides released this 2004 hybrid memoir-cookbook that offers both recipes and Conroy’s thoughts on various food-related topics, like the right foods for mourning a loved one. (Shrimp and grits, of course.) The book received rave reviews both for its fun take on foodie topics and its insight into Conroy’s writing process.

9. Skinny Cooks Can’t Be Trusted by Mo’Nique


With apologies to Newman’s Own Cookbook, this 2006 offering has to have the best title of any cookbook from an Oscar winner. Mo’Nique served up a collection of recipes for the, er, hungrier diner in her playful cookbook. The portion sizes are amazingly gigantic. Have two pounds of pasta? That’ll feed four!


Best Recipe Title: While we love “These Kids Are Workin’ My Nerves” as a chapter title, “The Other Morning-After Breakfast” has to take the cake here, if only because Mo’Nique prefaces it with “Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m a loose woman, but I’ve lived a life filled with exciting escapades.” We’re here to eat, not judge, Mo’Nique.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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