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Dietribes: Yogurt Made Me Cultured

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• Believe it or not, the Bible mentions yogurt in Genesis, where Abraham fed it to his guests. The history of yogurt is a long one - Assyrians ate it for health, and John Harvey Kellogg encouraged yogurt enemas at the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan (though the less said about that the better).

• But yogurt has many other uses: Cleopatra attributed her beauty to yogurt baths, and Pliny the Elder reports that Persian women found it beneficial for their skin (related bonus fact: in Iran, sour, thick fermented milk is called mast, of which one of the most popular brands is "Mickey Mast").

• It wasn't until the early 1900s though that the "secret" of fermented milk was discovered by Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff, who studied Bulgarian yogurt in test tubes at the Pasteur Institute. Their yogurt contained Bacillus bulgaricus, which, Metchnikoff decided, chased out the "wild, putrefying bacilli in our large intestine." Now ... who's hungry?
• Of course, people just can't go around selling bacterial cowboys to round up and clear out your wiley intestines without some regulation - according to the U.S. FDA, "yogurt" must be refrigerated and contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus cultures from dairy ingredients. The same identity is not required for frozen yogurt, although they too may contain live cultures.
• For those of you who enjoy fruit with your yogurt, you can thank the Dannon company, who first added fruit to its mixtures in 1946. Dannon is actually a Spanish company founded in 1919 by Isaac Carasso, who came from the Balkans where yogurt was a staple. He introduced it to Barcelona and called it "Danone," meaning "Little Daniel" after his son. The rest is history. 

• Not to be outdone, Yoplait also made a major contribution to the world of yogurt: the disposable container. Unfortunately, some of these have become a little too disposable: according to a study by Wrap (Waste and Resources Action Programme) we throw away more than nine million yogurt and yogurt drinks - unopened - a week. That's almost a tenth of the 100 million pots sold each week.

• What's in a name? "Way back during the mid-1980s frozen yogurt wars, there was a chain called I Can't Believe It's Yogurt, which sued competing chain TCBY because the letters stood for This Can't Be Yogurt. Unperturbed, TCBY deftly shifted its underlying name to The Country's Best Yogurt, kept the well-established abbreviation, and went on its merry yogurt-peddling way. (Few of us now remember the third fro-yo warrior, YSCCMTTIIFY, which stood for: You Simply Cannot Convince Me That This Is in Fact Yogurt!)"
• Do you prefer your yogurt thick or light and creamy? A clever Fage billboard in 2008 along the Macy’s Day Parade route made it look as if a Tweety balloon got stuck in some deliciously dense yogurt.

• Ricky Gervais' friend and podcast co-host Karl Pilkington sums up the future of yogurt as such: "scientists reckon that one day you can wake up and eat a yogurt you could have a chat with." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. 

• What is your favorite kind of yogurt, and do you eat it plain or with other foods? I smother my Indian dishes with it and prefer Greek-style yogurt, although a fruity yogurt cup is also always welcomed! Yogurt-haters are welcome to comment, too - I used to be in your camp!

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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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]