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11 Nerdy Recipes from Books, Movies and TV

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In recent years, the internet has revealed that there's no shortage of talented nerds out there with a flair for the culinary arts. Here are 11 of the best real-life recipes for sci-fi and fantasy delicacies. 

1. Butterbeer (from Harry Potter)

The beloved Hogsmeade beverage has rapidly become quite a hit with thirsty Muggles and a crowd-pleasing staple at Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Hoards of recipes exist, including a few alcoholic varieties, but most of them essentially consist of mixing cream soda with some sort of sweetener such as butterscotch syrup. For something a bit more involved, check this out:

2. Green Eggs and Ham (from Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham)

Fun Fact: Dr. Seuss' alma mater, Dartmouth College, often treats new students to a meal of green eggs and ham in honor of the beloved children's poet. But you don't have to be an Ivy-Leaguer (or Sam-I-Am) to enjoy this whimsical dish: click here for a quick how-to guide.

3. Elven Lembas Bread (from The Lord of the Rings)

Going on a lengthy quest? Be sure to bake some Lembas bread first! Looking for something meatier? Epic Meal Time (unsurprisingly) couldn't resist adding bacon to the Elvish dietary staple:

4. Arrakeen Spice Coffee (from Dune)

Unlike the mystical substance that drives the universe of Frank Herbert's legendary Dune saga, the “spice” laced into this coffee won't turn your eyes into glowing blue orbs or grant you prescient powers. But, if you should happen to have some extra cinnamon lying around, it's a fun way to start your morning. 

5. Romulan Ale (from Star Trek)

For Trekkies over 21, Geek In The City describes their Romulan Ale recipe as a “sure-fire way to get you arrested in the United Federation of Planets." Here's another take on this alien alcohol:

6. Bantha Milk (from Star Wars)

No trip to Tatooine is complete without a pint of cool, refreshing Bantha milk. Don't believe me? Check out this adorable ad:

But don't take our word for it, earth-bound readers: mix up a glass for yourself. (And for a non-alcoholic recipe, go here.)

7. Popplers (from Futurama)

Futurama fans can relish this tasty, seafood-based replica of one of the Planet Express crew's favorite treats.

8. Soylent Green Crackers (from Soylent Green)

You didn't really think we'd make it through this list without some sort of soylent green recipe, did you? Rest easy, sci-fi fans: no people were harmed in the making of these crackers!

9. Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster (from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy)

Unlike most of the culinary curiosities we've covered so far, author Douglas Adams actually wrote down a painstakingly-specific recipe for his own creation in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. Unfortunately, just about every single ingredient is imaginary, leading fans to conjure up some wildly-inventive attempts to replicate Zaphod Beeblebrox's beverage of choice.

10. Dothraki Blood Pie (from Game Of Thrones)

The warring cultures in George R. R. Martin's smash-hit fantasy series are so meticulously-detailed that an entire cookbook, A Feast of Ice and Fire, was published last year to commemorate their respective cuisines. Among the most popular dish is the evocatively-named Dothraki blood pie.

11. Banana-Onion Juice (from Avatar: The Last Airbender)

The denizens of the beloved anime often describe this juice as “an acquired taste”. In a very NSFW video, a trio of YouTubers took a stab at replicating the drink by blending bananas and onions, with disastrous results:

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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