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11 Summer Grilling Supplies That Are Worth the Splurge

Original image
Get grillin'
Hammacher Schlemmer / iStock

Everyone has at least one family member just waiting for the right day to break out their grilling equipment. Now that we're finally getting a little bit of warm weather, grill aficionados can finally break out their best apron and tongs. If you're into outdoor cooking, check out these tools and devices that are worth spending a little bit extra on it.

1. CUSTOM BRANDING INITIALS; $58

If you view grilled meat as edible art, then it needs the artist's signature. Let everyone know who cooked those perfectly seared steaks and burgers with an actual customizable branding tool.

Find it: Amazon

2. SPICE RUB COLLECTION; $60

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Spice rub
Dean and Deluca

Having a fancy arsenal of spices to rub on your food is what's going to take your grilling to the next level. This kit comes with nine tins of Dean and Deluca's most popular spice rubs: barbeque, Cajun, Jamaican jerk, pork, poultry, Asian, rib, Moroccan, and Southwestern.

Find it: Dean and Deluca

3. A COOLER THAT YOU CAN DRIVE; $1000

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Cool you can drive
Hammacher Schlemmer

Imagine rolling up to your grill spot while riding on a cooler filled with ingredients. Yes, that's right: You can drive your beer and condiments to the picnic at a breezy 12 mph. The motorized cooler comes with three wheels, a 1000 watt electric motor, and handlebars that have a throttle and brake lever. Beep beep! Time to barbecue.

Find it: Hammacher Schlemmer

4. NARWHAL SKEWERS; $46

Grilling is about to get a lot more cute with the help of this pair of stainless steel narwhals. Their signature horns spear through cubed food and their tails double as handles. Normal skewers will do just fine and cost a lot less money, but can you really say no to something this charming?

Find it: UncommonGoods

5. GRILLBOT; $72

Tired of cleaning the grill? Get the barbecue version of a Roomba to do the dirty work for you. The small cleaner works with most grills and has dishwasher-safe bristles. Choose from one of four colors: black, blue, orange, or red.

Find it: Amazon

6. STAR WARS TIE FIGHTER GRILL; $400

Looking to add a sci-fi spin to your barbecue routine? How about a TIE fighter gas grill? This officially licensed piece of equipment is a compact option for grilling in small spaces. If the appearance isn't enough, the grill comes with a Star Wars logo that can be seared into the bottom of your meat.

Find it: Amazon

7. MARINADE INFUSING MEAT TENDERIZER; $50

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Marinade Infuser
Hammacher Schlemmer

This interesting device is two tools in one: While it tenderizes your meat, it also has three needles that inject marinade directly into your food. To avoid marinating for hours, fill the plunger with 3 ounces of any sauce you'd like infused into your meat, and you can start grilling within minutes.

Find it: Hammacher Schlemmer

8. KEBAB CUTTING TOOL; $40

Make 16 perfectly cubed kebabs with this gadget. Tightly pack in meat, vegetables, or fruits into the container—the slots allow a knife to cut through the food with guided precision. It comes with 32 bamboo skewers, a storage bag, and even a lemon juicer on top.

Find it: Amazon

9. THAWING PLATE; $60

If you're too impatient or short on time to wait for frozen meat to thaw, there's a kitchen tool for that. This thawing plate has embedded heating pipes so that any frozen foods placed on top will be ready for grilling in half the time. No electricity or batteries are required to make it work, meaning you can take it outdoors while camping or tailgating.

Find it: Amazon

10. LED STEAK THERMOMETER; $60

Instead of trying to understand an unreliable meat thermometer, get something a little easier: A device that lights up when your meal is ready. You can tell how done the meat is by the color of the light: green is medium rare, yellow is medium, and red is medium well.

Find it: Amazon

11. GRILL DADDY; $19

Cleaning the grill is about to get a whole lot easier with the Grill Daddy. Using hot clouds of steam, the device makes quick work of grime and cooked-on food. And the gentle bristles won't damage porcelain, cast iron, or steel grill grates, making it the perfect cleaner for all grill types.

Find it: Amazon

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Get grillin'
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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