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Dietribes: Nuts for Cashews

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• The cashew is a very unusual nut. The largest part of the fruit is the juicy, pear-shaped part called, naturally, the "apple," which is eaten raw or fermented to become alcohol (or juices, syrups and preserves). The nut itself grows at the lower end of the "apple."

• In the Tupian languages of South America, it is known as "the nut that produces itself."

• The cashew tree is in fact a native of South America, but the Portuguese introduced it to the East African and Indian parts of their empire in the sixteenth century. Today, these areas are the biggest exporters of the nut. (Although the single biggest producer may be this giant cashew tree).

• It's also possible that fossilized cashew nuts in Germany may reveal that Europe was an important trade route between Africa and South America.

• Why aren’t cashews sold in shells? Because they are related to poison ivy and poison sumac, and the acid in the shell can blister your hands, that’s why!

• Although lower in total fat than most nuts, cashews are high in saturated fat. They are a good source of folacin, iron, protein, and vitamin C though, and the cashew apple is also so high in vitamin C that it is used in beverages and to make jelly (even nut butter!)

• You can also buy cashew juice, although the description by the New York Times of "milky cashew juice, served chilled, is a refreshing change of pace" doesn't exactly sound delicious … (or does it? Has anyone tried it?)

• Cashew nutshell liquid is used in the epoxy, coating, frictional material, printing, rubber, wood and specialty polymer industries. Yum?

• More cashews in industry: cashew brake pads? Eco One, an environmentally-friendly racing car from WMG, based at the University of Warwick, has tires made from potatoes and brake pads from cashew nut shells, and it does 0-62 mph in four seconds with a top speed of 125 mph. Yum!

• Finally, in a weirdly funny (because it has a good ending!) story, a British man was diagnosed with lung cancer until it turned out that the problem they found was just a cashew nut. "I am feeling fine now, and am just thanking my lucky stars it wasn't cancer," he said. "I can't remember choking on a nut. It's ironic really as I don't even like the darned things."

• And don't forget to mark your calendars - November 22 is National Cashew Day!

• I love cashews, but then again I love all nuts. What about you, Flossers? What are some delicious cashew treats or additions you eat that I can try?

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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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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