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Dietribes: Don't Hold the Mayo, I Relish It!

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• The origins of the word mayonnaise may be derived from mahonnaise, for the Spanish port of Mahon, where the French defeated the British in a 1756 naval battle. Others say it’s from the French verb manier, to mix or blend, or from the Old French moyeu (egg yolk). Regardless, it seems the French are always involved.

• Mayonnaise typically contains oil, egg yolk and vinegar (or lemon juice). Other ingredients may include mustard, olive oil, herbs, spices and finely chopped pickles. It's also the base of plenty of other dips and spreads, such as Fry Sauce, Ranch dressing, Tartar sauce and Thousand Island dressing.

• So what's the difference between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip? Well, Mental_Floss has actually covered it before! (Bonus fact I just learned about Grey Poupon: poupon means “newborn baby.” Gross!)

• Here it comes to save the daaay: Scientists at Rice University discovered that a little-understood tensile force, which was previously thought to be an oddity found only in the types of plastics used to make bulletproof vests, occurs in everyday emulsions like mayonnaise and salad dressing.

• Mayonnaise is quite handy for a number of things, including removing white ring stains from wood as well as a homemade moisturizing hair treatment (Has anyone tried these? I am interested to know if they really work!).

• Mayonnaise is also an environmental warrior - it has been used to clean sea turtles from oil spills. "Mayonnaise actually helps break down the oil for easier removal around the mouth and eyes."

• Of course, almost every Dietribe has a link to bacon nowadays, and sure enough, there's Baconnaise, which started with a customer request to make “spreadable bacon, namely mayonnaise."

• On the other end of the spectrum, there's also Vegenaise which is egg-free. Even if you aren't vegan (which I am not), I can confirm that this stuff is utterly delicious! Gwyneth Paltrow also loves it, saying it is her "most often-used and beloved ingredient."

• Don't think about this one too long, or your stomach may start to feel queasy … Oleg Zhornitiskiy holds a food eating record for eating mayonnaise that's set at consuming four 32-ounce bowls of mayonnaise in 8 minutes. If there are photographs or videos, I do not want to know about them.

• Speaking of extreme mayonnaise related things, in 2010, police arrested an Idaho woman for pouring mayonnaise into library drop boxes (and other "condiment-related crimes"). There's no explanation as to her motive, though. I'll leave the speculation and possible puns up to you guys …

• Finally, for those who have always wondered: the Mayo Clinic developed gradually from the medical practice of a pioneer doctor, Dr. William Worrall Mayo, who settled in Rochester, Minnesota, in 1863.

• I love mayo. And I will never, ever pronounce it properly (it is man-aise to me). I really do love Vegenaise and use it on sandwiches, as a dip, as a base, as everything! What about you, Flossers? Do you love mayo? And how do you use it?

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
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technology
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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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