CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

10 Places to Get Your Peep Fix This Easter

Original image
Getty Images

The reasons why some people, places and things storm their way to pop culture phenomenon status are about as elusive as David Hasselhoff’s continued popularity in Germany. But sure enough, every spring, just as the cherry blossoms enter full bloom in Washington, DC, so begins the run on Peeps. Yes, Peeps. Those adorable and brightly colored balls of sugar and gelatin, molded to resemble all manner of Easter-type creatures.

But since their introduction in 1953, Peeps have found their way into more than just the bellies of their rabid fan base. They’ve served as muse to Altoona-based kitsch music duo Dann/Servello. And even formed the physical foundation of an NCAA Sweet Sixteen bracket, created by the kids at The Boys and Girls Club of Westminster, Maryland.

Here are 10 other places where Peeps are showing up in popular culture.

1. The Washington Post

The Washington Post

For seven years, The Washington Post has hosted a Peeps Diorama Contest, in which the marshmallow candies are used to re-create scenes from politics and pop culture. Of the more than 650 entries submitted this year, Charlottesville, Virginia residents Leslie Brown and Lani Hoza’s “Peeps Mourn Their Peeps: Twinkie, Rest in Peeps” reigned supreme.

2. The St. Paul Pioneer Press

St. Paul Pioneer Press

While other newspapers have picked up on the trend, Minnesota’s St. Paul Pioneer Press originated the Peeps Diorama Contest, which is now in its tenth year. (In 2009, they also added a short video component.) Among this year’s winners is the doubly sweet “Life of Pie," created by Ron Young of Shoreview, MN.

3. The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Sun puts a culinary twist on the marshmallow competition, inaugurating a Peeps Recipe Contest this year, with entries ranging from savory to sickeningly sweet. Eleven-year-old Anna Lawson nabbed the Most Creative title with her Peep Pot Pie.

4. Mall of America

PEEPS & Company

Peeps-makers Just Born aren’t about to miss out on the candy frenzy they created. In addition to a dedicated website, they operate three standalone Peeps & Company retail stores, one in Maryland’s National Harbor, another at Minnesota’s Mall of America, and the newest—opened just last month—near the company headquarters in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In addition to a year-round stream of Peeps in sundry colors, flavors, shapes, and sizes, there’s a full supply of chick-themed apparel and accessories, from coffee mugs to iPhone covers.

5. Your iPod

Singalong

Have you ever wondered what a Peep might sound like? Download the Peeps Sing Along album—featuring Peep-ified versions of such classics as "Celebration" and "I Believe I Can Fly"—for a sawbuck and you’ll have your answer.

6. A Theater Near You

IMDb
“They were born in the mind of a Russian immigrant, hatched in Easter baskets, and eaten by the dozens across the country. Then they armed themselves with lances, stood in front of trucks, mutated in microwave ovens and set out on their own.”

So goes the synopsis of The Power of the Peep, filmmaker Matthew Beals’ 43-minute documentary on the history and cultural significance of the 60-year-old Easter candy. Here’s the trailer.

7. Your Bookshelf

Chronicle Books

One way to ensure your kids don’t overdo it on the Peep-eating? Turn them into a piñata (the candy, not the kids). In Peeps!, food writer Charity Ferreira and photographer Liz Wolfe offer up two dozen ways to get creative with your Peeps, from baking with them to using them as chopstick rests. (Does that latter use really require instructions?)

8. RecordSetter

RecordSetter

Video-sharing site RecordSetter was founded on the idea that we all have one unique talent. A quick search of the site reveals that at least seven of those natural gifts involve Peeps. Personal bests recorded here include "Most Peeps Placed on a Sleeping Baby in a Stop-Motion Film" (3) and "Most Peeps Balanced on an iPhone" (20).

9. The Racine Art Museum

Moira Coon, "Run Rabbit Run." Photograph by Jessica Z Schafer.

For 11 months out of the year, Wisconsin’s Racine Art Museum is a well-respected cultural institute that showcases one of the country’s most impressive collections of contemporary crafts. But come Easter, it’s Peeps Central, when the museum displays a wide selection of “Peep-powered” works of art, curated from submissions from around the world. This year’s exhibition will feature 109 entries from more than 145 artists.

10. Peeps Show


David Ottogalli/Peeps Show

Peeps art becomes high art in the (sugar-encrusted) hands of David Ottogalli. A lover of all things bright and sugary, the DC-based artist has been creating Peeps-based art and installations for 15 years. Though he has worked with candy and cereal as well, he admits that the classic yellow chick is still have favorite material. Ottogalli’s work has been displayed from the Peeps & Company store in National Harbor to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Through April 1st, his 4,100-Peep take on springtime—“Everything’s Coming Up Peeps”—will be on display at Miss Pixie’s Furnishings & Whatnot in Washington, DC.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES