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11 Ways Advertisers Make Food Look Delicious

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Advertised foods rarely look exactly like the real food they’re selling. In fact, a number of sites around the web have pointed out just how false food advertising can be. The truth is, the delicious-looking culinary concoctions we see in print ads and television commercials would be anything but appetizing if they were on your plate. Many times it wouldn’t even be fair to identify them as food. They’re more like a terrifying Frankenstein-like type of quasi sustenance commonly made up of a partially cooked food and a carefully created combination of interesting additives. For example...

1. Glue

Real milk tends to make breakfast cereal soggy and rather unappetizing in pretty short order. You know what doesn’t do that? White glue. Yogurt or shampoo have also been known to do the trick.

2. Sponges, Cotton Balls & Tampons

It’s important for hot foods to look hot. The way to do that is to show steam billowing off. Instead of stopping every few shots to nuke the staged food, photographers will often soak one of these items in water, microwave it, and skillfully hide it in the shot.

3. A Blow Torch, a Branding Iron & Some Shoe Polish

Most of the time, meat products aren’t actually cooked because cooking can cause them to shrink and dry out. So items like steak and hamburgers are carefully seared with a blowtorch. Afterwards, grill marks are added with a branding iron and, as a finishing touch, some shoe polish or varnish may be applied to provide a nice, succulent color.

4. Cardboard & Toothpicks

Even if you could get past the taste of the leather shoe polish described above, a photography-ready hamburger would be unpleasant to deal with, as they are typically loaded with sheets of cardboard for support and toothpicks or pins that have been strategically placed to keep lettuce, onion, and the rest of the package in their specifically staged place.

5. Motor Oil & Some Fabric Protector

A nice big stack of flapjacks can be a thing of beauty. The only problem is those breakfast staples are quite porous – so the syrup just seeps right in. Photographers solve that issue by coating them with a healthy layer of aerosol fabric protector. And, because maple syrup doesn’t always look great on camera, they might turn to motor oil as a stand-in.

6. Hairspray & Spray-On Deodorant

That ripe, delicious bunch of grapes you see in that ad have that matte look to them because they’re coated in a healthy amount of one of these grocery store spray can staples.

7. Glycerin

If a product is cold or icy, you can bet the version in the TV commercial is covered in glycerin. The substance is used as a sort of catch-all on food shoots to provide gloss and sheen, or give the appearance of moisture on everything from a beer bottle to the leaves of a salad.

8. Paper Towels

If you’ve ever drizzled a bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup, only to watch all of the delicious topping slide and fall off the ice cream, you'll understand this trick. Photographers cut out little amorphous pieces of paper towel, lay them over the top of the ice cream, then cover the paper towel with the syrup. Apparently it does a bang up job holding the syrup in place.

9. The Food That Makes Other Foods Look Good

The MVP of the food staging world is the mashed potato. Whipped spuds are used for all sorts of aesthetic purposes. They’re loaded into syringes and then injected straight into meat to plump up specific parts of a turkey or roast. They’re dyed different colors and used to play the role of ice cream. And they’re baked into pies to provide a sturdy interior that won’t fall to pieces when a slice is taken out.

10. Antacid & Soap Bubbles

Soda doesn’t look so crisp and refreshing without an overabundance of bubbles. A little antacid tablet typically gets the stuff churning and bubbling. Dish soap can be used for creating larger surface bubbles.

11. Tweezers

How specific do the details of food photography get? It’s not uncommon for a hamburger bun to be methodically covered with sesame seeds by a person with tweezers, glue, and an incredible amount of patience. Tweezers are also useful in assembling Asian and Italian noodle-based dishes - with the placement, shape, and curvature of each noodle being dissected, assessed, and set carefully in place. Just like you do it at home, right?

[Via Food Portfolio, Photopoly, Consumer Reports]

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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