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Rolling Out

10 Red, White, and Blue Treats for Independence Day

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Rolling Out

Any holiday means special food, and since the Fourth of July isn't a "candy holiday," we need to make up for it with ice cream, fresh fruit, and other delightful dishes! Here are ten delicious ways to spark up recipes by giving them the colors of the American flag.

1. Layered Patriotic Punch

The secret to layering this potent punch is two different colors of Gatorade, keeping the lighter, sugar-free version on top. The heaviest layer of pina colada is on the bottom. Be sure to take a picture, because they will be consumed posthaste. The recipe is at Rolling Out.

2. Patriotic Pops

It looks like a homemade version of Bomb Pops! The red and blue are frozen drinks, and the white is a delicious combination of yogurt and whipped topping. Each is frozen in a small disposable cup. You'll find complete instructions at Spoonful.

3. 4th of July Strawberries

Strawberries are already red and ripe for July 4th, but it's easy to take them all the way into flag territory. These were dipped in melted white chocolate, then in colored sugar. See the instructions at The Sisters Cafe.

4. Bacon Flag Pizza

What food could be more American than bacon and pizza? Maybe potatoes, but this pizza has them, too, in the form of purple potatoes that cook to a nice blue. Add cheese for the white stripes, and you have a pizza with an American flag on it! See how it's done at Rock UR Party.

5. Flag Fruit Pizza

Oh, the title may say pizza, but this is made with cookie dough and fruit, so slice it up for a sweet treat! On top of the cookie, there's a "pizza sauce" made with cream cheese and whipped topping, then lovingly layered bananas, strawberries, and blueberries to make the flag. Made by Sabby in Suburbia, where you'll find complete instructions.

6. Patriotic Ice Cream Sandwiches

Cool off with an ice cream treat in style! You can use ice cream sandwiches from the grocery and roll the edges in red, white, and blue sprinkles, but they're even more impressive made from home-baked chocolate chip cookies. Slip a slab of ice cream between two cookies, add sprinkles, and these will be eaten before they melt. Get instructions at Jimmy Choos on the Treadmill.

7. Red, White, and Blue Pastries

Using Puff Pastry is a shortcut that saves a lot of time in making these patriotic pastries, which are stuffed with berry jam and topped with cream cheese filling and raspberries and blueberries. Yum! The top opening is a star shape, which leaves you star pastry to make into extra treats. See the whole process illustrated at Recipe Girl.

8. Firecracker Cakelettes

Why anyone would ever want to ingest Pop Rocks is beyond me, but they weren't a part of my childhood, so what do I know? For these edible firecrackers, you stack red, white, and blue cake rings on top of each other, glued with frosting. Then "load" them with Pop Rocks and add a licorice fuse. Great for a kid's party! Find the complete instructions at She Knows.

9. Red, White, and Blue Sangria

This fruit-filled wine cooler is made of white wine and berry-flavored vodka, with a few other ingredients for flavor and visual appeal. Add blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and pineapplee cut into star shapes for an impressive refreshment! Recipe Girl has the rest of the recipe.

10. The Trojan Cake

This is what happens when adjacent countries have their patriotic holidays so close together on the calendar. Just like the Trojan Horse, this gift of a Canada Day cake came with a surprise inside. Canadian recipient and redditor TruthGoliath posted the deception. Of course, it was all in fun, and you can make a cake like this with directions from Betty Crocker. The lovely frosting job is not included with the recipe.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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