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By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

10 Meaty Facts About the McRib

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By Evan-Amos (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What began as a burger alternative has morphed into a bona fide cultural obsession. Introduced in 1981, McDonald's McRib sandwich didn't always have the rabid following it boasts today. Here are 10 things that you might not have known about the Halley's comet of fast food menu items.

1. THE SANDWICH CONTAINS 70 INGREDIENTS.

There’s more to a McRib than barbecue sauce-slathered pork on a bun with onions and pickles. The sandwich contains a staggering 70 different ingredients, the least innocuous of which are “pig bits like tripe, heart, and scalded stomach.” Add in some azodicarbonamide, ammonium sulfate, ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides and … well, you get the idea.

2. KANGAROO MEAT IS NOT ONE OF THE INGREDIENTS.

A persistent urban legend lingering around the internet says the rib-shaped patty is actually made of Australia’s famous roos. (It’s not.)

3. IT HAS BEEN AROUND FOR MORE THAN 30 YEARS.

The McRib debuted on McDonald’s menus in 1981, but it was far from an immediate hit. It was pulled from menus in 1985 because of poor sales. In 1994, the fast food behemoth tried again and found greater success with the McRib. In 2005, the sandwich became a bit more elusive, popping up for limited-time spans only. (To find the McRib nearest you, there's a McRib Locator.)

4. IT WAS INSPIRED DURING A TRIP TO CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA.

McDonald’s executive chef Rene Arend was visiting the city and had several pulled pork sandwiches. He thought the flavor combination “should really go over.”

5. YOU CAN THANK CHICKEN FARMERS FOR THE MCRIB'S INVENTION.

Turns out McNuggets, which debuted in 1979, were so popular that McDonald’s couldn’t keep up with demand. As Arend told Maxim in 2009, “There wasn’t a system to supply enough chicken. We had to come up with something to give the other franchises as a new product. So the McRib came about because of the shortage of chickens.”

6. YOU CAN THANK THE FLINSTONES FOR ITS RETURN.

After mediocre sales, the McRib was pulled from the national menu in 1985. When The Flintstones hit theaters in 1994, McDonald’s capitalized on the resemblance between the slab o’ ribs atop the Flintmobile and the pork patty, and brought it back as a movie tie-in. Rosie O’Donnell was in the commercial, but John Goodman declined.

7. ITS SHAPE IS VERY INTENTIONAL.

The McRib is sort of famous for not containing ribs (bone or meat, really), so why does it look like a slab of ribs? Because, that’s why. “Some thought, why not just make it round?” recalls Arend. “It would’ve been easier. But I wanted it to look like a slab of ribs.” So there you have it.

8. IN 2011, MCDONALD'S HOSTED THE QUEST FOR THE GOLDEN MCRIB.

We don’t know what this means, but it seems there were Golden McRibs “virtually hidden in McDonald’s across the country.” Previous McRib events: the “Legend of the McRib” contest, which asked fans to create a mythical history for the sandwich (perhaps this is where the kangaroo meat legend came from?) and three McRib Farewell Tours, in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

9. A (FAKE) PETITION TO SAVE THE MCRIB WAS FEATURED ON THE MCDONALD’S WEBSITE IN 2005.

It was sponsored by the Boneless Pig Farmers of America.

10. THE PROCESS OF TURNING MEAT INTO A MCRIB PATTY TAKES ABOUT 45 MINUTES.

"The pork meat is chopped up, then seasoned, then formed into that shape that looks like a rib back," Rob Cannell, director of McDonald’s U.S. supply chain, explained in Maxim. "Then we flash-freeze it. The whole process from fresh pork to frozen McRib takes about 45 minutes.”

An earlier version of this article ran in 2011.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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