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Scientists Want More Money to Research Hangover Cures

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By Keith Wagstaff

Scientists at University of California, Davis, apparently unsatisfied with the preferred post-drinking-binge remedy of Bloody Marys and breakfast burritos, are arguing that the U.S. needs to fund more research on hangover cures.

Why? Because the "related absenteeism and poor job performance" associated with hangovers costs U.S. companies $148 billion per year, according to NBCNews.com. That comes out to about $2,000 per working adult.

Also, hangovers are terrible. "We really don't know much about a hangover and it is an incredibly puzzling response — the symptoms only show up after all the alcohol is metabolized and gone from the body," Alyson Mitchell, a professor at the department of food science and technology at UC Davis, told NBCNews.com. "The fact that something is the most toxic after it has been eliminated from the body [is unusual]."

While there is no magic cure for the hangover yet, science has confirmed that eating a pepperoni pizza before hanging out with your bros was totally a good idea:

Prior to drinking, people should eat a high fat meal, something that includes olive oil, meat, or dairy. The fat coats the stomach, meaning it takes the body longer to absorb the alcohol. The day after drinking, eating eggs helps replace cysteine, an amino acid lost from alcohol consumption. Our bodies don't easily replenish the amino acid, and cysteine-rich eggs help restore it. [NBCNews.com]

The reason that hangovers aren't as fun as, say, The Hangover, is that alcohol is a diuretic — as is caffeine, which is one of many reasons you should never, ever drink a vodka and Red Bull. That's also why drinking a glass of water with each alcoholic beverage can help prevent future pain.

Mitchell is so committed to preventing that pain and stopping your mornings from feeling like hell on earth that she put her scientific mind to the task of finding the perfect hangover food. What she found was yakamein, a Chinese-influenced noodle soup that is especially popular in New Orleans, according to The Atlantic:

The big bowl of liquid is loaded with sodium to replace all the salts that your body whizzes away due to alcohol's diuretic properties. The unctuous brisket sits in your stomach like a heavy sponge, slowing down the body's absorption of alcohol. The B-complex vitamins in the green onions might help ease an impending headache by preventing an accumulation of glutaric acid. That egg plays a part, too, being full of a chemical called cysteine that removes noxious acetaldehyde from the system. [The Atlantic]

As tasty as that sounds, people might be better off if they could just pop an anti-hangover pill on their way to work. (Or maybe if they drank a little less.) We say if Obama can commit $100 million to map the human brain, perhaps he can commit a tiny bit of research money to make our brains not feel like someone's stabbing them with an ice pick after having one too many.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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