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10 Celebrity Refreshments

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Advertisers know that the taste of a better lifestyle will sell products. Celebrities learn this as well, and can make a killing putting their name on something that can impart even a little of their charm on a fan. These beverages just might be the perfect gift for a fan that you know.

1. Marilyn Manson Absinthe: Mansinthe

Musician Marilyn Manson, a longtime absinthe fan, partnered with Markus Lion and Swiss distiller Matter-Luginbühl in 2007 to create his signature liquor called Mansinthe. Manson took a hands-on approach to the development of the product and tested it for quite some time before approving the final product. Reviewers rate it between average and rather good.

2. The Situation's Low-Calorie Devotion Vodka

Making a "health drink" out of vodka is an exercise in cognitive dissonance, but then again, so is "reality" TV. Devotion Vodka resulted when New Jersey native Drew Adelman combined vodka with a protein supplement and formed a partnership with Mike Sorrentino to market the drink. Sorrentino goes by the name "The Situation" in his role in the TV series Jersey Shore. He also manages a fitness club. Devotion Vodka is promoted as low calorie, sugar-free, and gluten-free. The tagline for the vodka tells us it is "infused with casein" (brand name PeptoPro®). Casein is a material derived from milk that is used to make pizza cheese, paint, glue, and protein supplements.

3. Ron de Jeremy: the Adult Rum

After 30 years and a couple of thousand films, Ron Jeremy is the best known man in the adult film industry. You may recognize him from mainstream films as well. Now that name (and face) is on bottles of rum. Ron de Jeremy comes in two forms, regular rum and Ron de Jeremy Spiced, with extra flavor. Both are advertised with the tagline "the adult rum." As if there were any other kind. The product came about as a joke, according to Jouko Laune and Olli Hietalahti of One Eyed Spirits, which produces the liquor. "Ron" means rum in Spanish, and the name Ron Jeremy opens up a world of puns to fuel advertising and word-of-mouth. It's a gift that sends an extra message in addition to "I know you like rum."

4. Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka

Crystal Head on Bar

Crystal Head Vodka looks exactly as you would expect: a bottle of vodka in a glass skull. Crystal head is a collaboration between actor Dan Aykroyd and artist John Alexander, who are both interested in the paranormal aspects of crystal skulls. The vodka itself is filtered through quartz crystals. The bottle actually came before the vodka -in fact, the original plan was to put tequila in it! Aykroyd already had a deal to import Patrone tequila to Canada, so vodka was selected instead. That it was launched in 2008 was supposedly unrelated to the 2008 movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Those who have paid around $60 a bottle tend to treasure the skull more than the spirit. Image by Flickr user Kevin Takaki.

5. Justin Timberlake's 901 Silver Tequila

Launched in 2009, 901 Silver Tequila is named for the area code of Justin Timberlake's hometown, Memphis Tennessee, but it is marketed to remind people of 9:01 PM, the time to drink tequila. Timberlake's name does not appear on the bottle, but he founded the product, which is manufactured by Tequilera Newton in the heart of Jalisco, Mexico.

6. Willie Nelson's Old Whiskey River Bourbon

One of Willie Nelson's most popular hit songs is "Whiskey River," which inspired the name of his Old Whiskey River Bourbon, launched in 2001. Produced by Heaven Hill Distilleries in Kentucky, the 6-year-old Bourbon is distributed by Drinks America. Each bottle comes with a guitar pick, and part f the proceeds go to Farm Aid.

7. Vince Neil's Tres Rios Tequila

Vince Neil of the band Mötley Crüe introduced his Tres Rios Tequila in 2007. Although the Tres Rios site is no longer there (but still linked on Neil's website), the tequila is still sold in stores.

8. Danny DeVito's Limoncello

Limoncello is an Italian dessert liqueur made from lemons. Danny DeVito's Premium Limoncello may have come about as a joke after he (jokingly?) blamed a strange 2006 performance on a TV talk show on too many limoncellos. It was only a few months later that his personal brand of the drink debuted. It is possible that the entire event was a marketing ploy, but most likely it's an example of life handing him lemons and DeVito making limoncello out of it. It compares well with other brands of limoncello, but comes in a frustratingly opaque bottle. The original website promoting the product is either defunct or under construction, but it is still available at a liquor store near you.

9. Two if by Tea, from Rush Limbaugh

In June of 2011, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh introduced a bottled sweet tea called Two If By Tea. The product site is full of Tea Party and tea puns. The tea comes in regular and diet plus raspberry flavor -no alcohol here. The drink is only available online, but you can order in large quantities.

10. AC/DC The Wine

Australian band AC/DC launched their signature wine collection last August, which includes several varieties: Back in Black Shiraz, Highway to Hell Cabernet Sauvignon, Hells Bells Sauvignon Blanc, and You Shook Me All Night Long Moscato. The labels for each depict a different AC/DC album cover. They are a product of Warburn Estate winery. Like the song says, "Have a Drink on Me."

The Rolling Stones, KISS, Motorhead, and Whitesnake have all released wine collections. In fact, signature wine is such a popular investment choice for celebrities that I decided to stop the list here. You can learn more in the post 10 Celebrities Who Own Wineries. I also passed over quite a few celebrity beverages that appeared to be simply endorsement deals for existing products. Learn about the founders of some classic potables in The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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]

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