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12 Things We've Enhanced With Caffeine

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What's the buzz? Caffeine's now available in just about everything.

1. Toothbrushes

The best part of waking up is ... caffeine in your brush? Colgate-Palmolive has filed a patent for a toothbrush that can administer caffeine and other chemicals while cleaning your pearly whites. The jolt comes from a patch on the toothbrush's head, which can last up to three months. The good news: The same technology enables a sleep-inducing toothbrush for nighttime. The bad news: Someone will mix them up.

2. Toothpaste

Caffeinated toothbrushes can't get you percolating just yet, but Buzz Toothpaste can. Creator Richard Davis promises an energy boost within 15 minutes, no coffee breath necessary. Research shows that a caffeinated mouthwash may prevent oral cancer, so it probably won't be long before you're gargling with the stimulant. And who knows? Pretty soon you might actually look forward to flossing twice a day, too.

3. Soap

Hygiene, caffeine, it's the same thing with this soap. Caffeine's become a popular ingredient in skincare products, because it stimulates blood circulation and makes skin look refreshed. There's a caffeinated deodorant for men (that doesn't smell like Starbucks). Caffeinated shampoo's also supposed to prevent hair loss. Lather up!

4. Chewing gum

Wrigley launched Alert caffeinated gum late last month, promising the equivalent of a half-cup of coffee in a single stick. Within weeks, it was taken off the shelves, due to the FDA's "concern about the proliferation of caffeine in the nation's food supply." Gum that gives you the jitters isn't new—Jolt has sold its Energy Gum and caffeinated breath mints since 2003. Still, if you think normal gum chewers are annoying, just wait 'til you add caffeine to the mix.

5. Waffles

File this one under What Not To Give Your Kid For Breakfast. Each Wired Waffle contains 200 mg of caffeine. Founder Roger Sullivan sought investor support for the product on the popular TV show Shark Tank. But the sharks weren't biting.

6. Jelly beans

Caffeinated jelly beans and gummy bears? The Halloween candy prank pulls itself...

7. Water

H2Whoa! A number of caffeinated bottled waters can quench your thirst and put some pep in your step. The only problem: Drinking too much might make you more dehydrated. It's a vicious cycle.

8. Beer

In other liquid paradoxes, you can have your stimulants and depressants all at once with caffeinated beer. Well, you could have. In 2010, the FDA ruled that caffeine is a dangerous additive to alcoholic beverages. The same year, a number of states—including California, New York, and Kansas—banned the sale of malt beverages with caffeine.

9. Beef jerky

Tired of guzzling down your junk food with a soda? Now beef jerky, popcorn, and hot sauce can deliver a powerful caffeine punch, along with all the calories, salt, and fat. Admit it: You kind of want to try all of them.

10. Sunscreen

Caffeine keeps you perky in more ways than one. According to every caffeinated anti-wrinkle cream, it reduces the appearance of fine lines, lightens dark circles, and removes under-eye bags. Even better, the stimulant could save your hide. Research shows that caffeinated sunscreen may prevent skin cancer, as it affects a gene that destroys sun-damaged cells.

11. Shapewear

Having trouble getting your butt in gear in the morning? Put on your caffeine-infused underpants or tights and get on with it. Well, not really. Caffeinated shapewear only promises to smooth skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite over time. Alas, pouring coffee on your lap doesn't produce the same results. Unless you get a really camouflaging third-degree burn.

12. Lip balm

What happens when the one police officer in a small Alaskan village gets tired of chapped lips? A caffeinated lip balm with a buzzy name. Hard Candy and other cosmetic brands have since created caffeine-enhanced lipsticks and lip glosses.

But if you're really tired, you know what to do: Eat a Perky Jerky sandwich made with Wired Waffles and caffeinated hot sauce, brush your teeth with Buzz Toothpaste, and then use that energy to go far away where no one has to interact with you.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]