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5 Whiskeys That Make Good Father's Day Gifts

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So it’s come to this. You procrastinated on buying your dad a Father’s Day gift, and now you’re scrambling. Whiskey to the rescue! What dad wouldn’t love a nice bottle of whiskey for Father’s Day? It’s delicious. (And if your dad’s not into whiskey, it’s infinitely re-giftable.)

The only problem is picking the right bottle. Staring at a liquor store’s whiskey selection can be a daunting task, and if you give up and just pick the coolest-looking bottle, you might not end up with the tastiest booze. Since we started our “In the Spirit” column in the print version of mental_floss—seriously, why haven’t you subscribed yet?—we’ve been getting questions about our favorite types of hooch, and we’re always up to talking about drinks. If you’re in dire straits and need a hand picking a Father’s Day bottle, here are a few things we’ve enjoyed in the last few weeks. 

1. Canadian Whiskey: Caribou Crossing Single Barrel

Scotch and bourbon drinkers love to dismiss Canadian whiskey as bland, and with good reason—a lot of it is bland compared to its more aggressive international peers. Not this one. It takes the creamy mouthfeel that Canadian whiskey is known for but kicks it up with spicy pear flavors and a wallop of cinnamon. 

2. Single Malt Scotch: The Macallan 12

Buying single malts as gifts is a tricky business. The category encompasses a wide array of flavors, many of which are incredibly polarizing. (In the case of a smoky Islay like Laphroaig, one could argue whether it is delicious or that it tastes like a Band-Aid that survived a fire. Both positions are defensible.) So if you’re flying blind, we recommend nabbing a bottle of the Macallan 12 year old. Maturation in European sherry casks gives it a rich, complex flavor, but it steers well clear of the aggressive smoky or peaty tastes that can be off-putting. And if you really like your dad, upgrade to its older brother, the Macallan 18-year-old, which is pricy but lovely.

3. Tennessee Whiskey: George Dickel Barrel Select

George Dickel doesn’t get the same hype as its black-labeled Tennessee neighbor, but it’s every bit as good. Like many Dickel products, their premium bottling smells a bit like vitamins, but it also packs in a lot of fruity notes of apricot and sweet cherry.

4. Bourbon: Bulleit 10

Bulleit’s standard offering is a terrific bourbon, and its relatively new 10-year-old version amps up its rye spiciness and oaky flavors while still leaving room for a nice plum flavor to shine through. Plus, if your dad is into Westerns, the cowboy-inspired bottle looks like it would feel at home in a 19th-century saloon.

5. Irish Whiskey: Redbreast 12-Year-Old Cask Strength

Like their Canadian counterparts, Irish whiskeys can be on the subtle side—but not the cask-strength version of Redbreast’s 12-year-old single pot still whiskey. At over 117 proof, it slams your tongue with a fair amount of alcohol, but in the most delightful way possible. The potency makes it feel almost chewy in your mouth, and there’s an onslaught of apple and caramel flavors. Before I tried this one, I thought I didn’t like Irish whiskey. Turns out I was just drinking the wrong ones. Your dad will probably agree.

What did we miss? What whiskey are you buying your dad for his big day? Tell us in the comments! 

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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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