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12 Strange, Yet Beautiful Fruits & Vegetables

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Here's a fun roundup of odd fruits and veggies. If you have any experience eating any of them, we're all ears! The comments are open below...

1. Durian

There are more than 30 durian species in Southeast Asia alone, but only about one third of them are edible. Those who don't like the flavor of the durian fruit often say it smells like dirty gym socks. Yum!

2. Pitaya

Pitaya is found on several cactus species. In different countries it's known as dragon fruit, dragon pearl fruit, and strawberry pear.

3. Yangmei


Yangmei (sometimes called/spelled yamamomo, myrica rubra, kanji, katakana, Chinese bayberry, or Chinese strawberry) is native to Southeast Asia, mainly China.

4. Bottle Gourd


The bottle gourd grows in tropical areas all over the world and can actually be used as a real bottle, rather than eaten.

5. Monstera Deliciosa


This guy is also known as monstereo, windowleaf, Mexican breadfruit, Swiss cheese plant, ceriman, fruit salad plant, or just monster fruit, due to its monster size (it can grow up to two feet in length!). It’s mostly native to Mexico and Panama.

6. Black Radish


Black Spanish or Black Spanish Round occur in both round and elongated forms, and are sometimes simply called the black radish or known by the French name Gros Noir d'Hiver.

7. Carambola


The carambola, also known as starfruit, is native to Southeast Asia and is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and low in sugar, sodium and acid.

8. Horned Melon


This fruit is another with tons of aliases: kiwano, horned melon, African horned cucumber, hedged gourd, jelly melon. It’s native to Africa, but also grows in California, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, as well. In California it’s widely known as Blowfish fruit. Although it’s edible, kiwano is mostly used as decoration food.

9. Buddha’s Hand


Buddha's hand fruit is very fragrant and is used predominantly by the Chinese and Japanese for perfuming rooms and personal items, such as clothing. According to WIKI, "The fruit may be given as a religious offering in Buddhist temples. According to tradition, Buddha prefers the 'fingers' of the fruit to be in a position where they resemble a closed rather than open hand, as closed hands symbolize to Buddha the act of prayer."

10. Ugli Fruit


The ugli fruit is actually a Jamaican tangelo, which was created by hybridizing a grapefruit (or pomelo), an orange and a tangerine. Because it's a bit unsightly when ripe, it was called the Ugli fruit by its trademarker, Cabel Hall Citrus Limited.

11. Noni Fruit


Talk about aliases! It's only called Noni in Hawaii. Elsewhere, this fruit goes as the great morinda, Indian mulberry, nunaakai (Tamil Nadu, India) , dog dumpling (Barbados), mengkudu (Indonesia and Malaysia), apatot (Philippines), Kumudu (Bali), pace (Java), beach mulberry, and cheese fruit! The tree that produces the fruit is actually in the coffee family.

12. Dulse


Technically, dulse is a red alga, but often considered a vegetable, most often found off the coast of Maine. I like to eat it as a snack, right out of the bag, or sprinkled on top of my salad. In Iceland people eat it with butter!

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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