CLOSE
Original image

Five Whiskeys Dad Will Love

Original image

Tis the season, and if you're like a lot of gift-buyers out there, Dad is both the easiest and the hardest family member to shop for -- sure, you can always get him golf clubs or bottles of fancy booze, but which ones? I might not know a nine-iron from a putter, but I do know a few things about whiskey. Here are five tasty ideas for boozy gifts this season, with reviews from my whiskey club's excellent website (or you can skip right to our database of thousands of whiskey reviews).

Parker's Heritage 10 Year Wheated Bourbon

Price point: around $85
Region: Kentucky
About: Anything from the Parker's Heritage label -- from the Heaven Hill distillery, in conjunction with Parker Beam, of the nearly-royal Beams -- will be good, but this stuff is especially tasty. At more than 120 proof, the alcohol content is about 25% higher than your average bottle of bourbon, but along with all that undiluted alcohol comes undiluted flavor. A lot of people will cut a whiskey this strong with an ice cube or a thimble-full of spring water; I'm of the sip-it-straight persuasion, but that's just me.
Tasting notes: "Fantastic nose, like french toast in a glass with maple syrup. Pretty hot at ~ 64%, but I like that, brings out the big rich spicy wheat profile with lots of sweetness lingering in the finish."

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Price point: $45
Region: Island of Islay, Scotland
About: I think this is one of the best scotch values out there. I'm partial to the super-peaty stuff, which anything Laphroaig produces certainly is, but this has a great balance to it, due largely to the amount of contact this ten-year-old whisky has had with oak-wood. In the old days, when there were still a lot of whisky-makers in Scotland who tried to keep their activities secret in order to avoid British taxes, a great deal of whisky was aged in small casks, which were easier to hide and transport subtly. The unexpected advantage of this maturation method was that the ratio of wood-surface-area to whisky was upped significantly, giving the scotch a woodier taste. As far as I know, Laphroaig is the only distiller who matures anything in the old contraband-style quarter cask.
Tasting notes: "I find this to be more accessible and balanced than the Laphroaig 10. Great peat but the wood shows, enjoyable, and should be a staple in most collections." "Smokey, musty nose. Palate is very smokey and mildly sweet, with a whole bunch of peat/earth/that stuff and some medicine. A peat treat and a good buy."

Balvenie Doublewood

Price point: $40
Region: Speyside, Scotland
About: This is an extremely accessible and very tasty dram, one I'd be confident putting in the hands of someone who's never tasted scotch before. If they don't like this, they probably won't like scotch at all. On the other hand, snootier palates and more experienced scotch drinkers might turn their noses up at what some consider a "starter" scotch. But, IMHO, that's just silly.
Tasting notes: "Sweet, sherried flavor, moderate finish, and very enjoyable." "Maple nose, full oaky flavor with good mouth feel, some sugar. Finishes a bit hot, but quite good for the price."
Note: If you can find a bottle of the significantly-more-expensive-but-wonderful Balvenie Rum Cask, BUY IT! It's one of the best rum-cask-aged (or anything-other-than-oak-aged) scotches out there.

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac

Price point: $70
Region: Kentucky
About: One of the best ryes money can buy. A giant, high-test (126 proof) bottle of spice and cinnamon and leather and oak. Major yum. You may be tempted to make Sazerac cocktails or other mixed drinks with this but DO NOT waste it by diluting with mixers! One ice cube is permitted. Yes, I am very opinionated.
Tasting notes: "Christmassy-clove-allspice-cinnamon-nutmeg-minty-rich-freight-train-delight. A fascinating rye that just pleases the hell out of me. This is not one for novices, the ABV and massive rich spice mix will probably just put them off. However, the heat isn't near what would be expected from nearly 67% (and I drink it at full strength, yes, although it is great on the rocks as well). This has some nearly magical, mysterious aspects to it... and I don't believe any magical or mysterious mumbo-jumbo, so that's saying a lot! Completely delightful."

Ardmore 30

Price point: $400 and up
Region: Highland, Scotland
About: OK, we're getting really fancy here, but I include it because this pretty much the best thing I've ever tasted. I had it once -- a Laphroaig ambassador whipped a bottle out at a party and started pouring it, and when a man in a kilt tells you to drink scotch, you don't ask questions -- and it absolutely blew me away. It's difficult but not impossible to find.
Tasting notes: Nose has moderate cherry/berry scents, dijon mustard, tinge of smoke, chocolate. Palate -- ooh -- chocolate, toffee, and that mustard/spice/smoke thing. Medium-sweetness. Quite rich without being too much of anything. There's also something in the background that tastes like I'm chewing on carnations. Hey, I really like this! Finish is long, where the smoke emerges more and sticks around longest, with a little black pepper. Gets dryer in a way that's a nice contrast to the palate. Reveals different characteristics on every few sips.

For periodic updates on whiskies I love, Follow me on Twitter.

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
Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
Original image
iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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