Original image

Ten Neat Things to Do With Apples

Original image

This is the list I started to work on last week when I got distracted by the history of apples. Now that you know how we came to have such wonderful apples, here's some things you can do with the bounteous harvest.

1. Bacon Apple Pie

You are, no doubt, very familiar with the basic American apple pie. Spice that recipe up with some bacon! Mission Hills Life has a recipe for Bacon Makes Everything Better Apple Pie, shown here, and a bonus recipe for Maple Bourbon Apple Pie with a Bacon Pecan Crust, if you want to really go all out.

2. Apple French Fries

It's just a raw red apple, but carved carefully, it becomes a reasonable facsimile of a serving of McDonalds French fries! Not that any kid will be fooled, but it may put some fun into eating fruit.

3. Bacon Apple Martini

The Bacon Apple Martini is made of bacon-infused vodka, applejack, apple cider, amaretto, and maple syrup, garnished with candied bacon. I believe that gets the message across.

4. Churro Apple Pie Waffles

If you can't decide whether you want a churro, a waffle, or some apple pie, make them all together! Churro waffles combine the cinnamon crispiness of a churro with the ease of waffles. Add apple filling, either canned or baked from your fresh apples, and you have Churro Apple Pie Waffles. Get the complete recipe at Chica Chocolatina.

5. Caramel-Apple Jello Shots

Here's a treat for an autumn party: Caramel-Apple Jello Shots. The jello contains hot cocoa mix, caramel, and vodka. The apple provides not only taste and crunch, but a container for the rest.

6. Ultimate Caramel Apples

The first obvious difference in these caramel apples from Cooking Classy is that they are coated with chocolate (white or dark) as well as caramel -and sprinkles. But it's homemade caramel, which the recipe explains how to make. That preservative-free buttery taste makes all the difference.

7. Apple Roses

Apple Roses are as tasty as apple dumplings, but also artistic enough to impress. This recipe is translated from Greek. When it says slice apples with a mandolin, they mean mandoline, or a food slicer. The short story is that you boil thin slices of apple to make them soft (and sugary, while you're at it), then arrange the roses atop your cinnamon-sprinkled pastry, and finally bake them.

8. Drunken French Toast

Nick at Dude Foods puts apples into his Drunken French Toast recipe. Start with beer bread, mix rum with your eggs, and top it with whiskey-soaked apples!

9. The Apple Puzzle

David Israel made a video to show you how his grandfather used to carve an apple with just four cuts to make an apple puzzle.  The kids will marvel over this, and then eat it!

10. Apple Dolls

Making apple dolls is an American folk art. All you do is peel an apple, carve a face into the fruit, and let it dry thoroughly. The dried apple will resemble an elderly version of the face you carved, so when you add a body and clothing, you'll want to make them age-appropriate. Or not, if you want to go against the traditional grain. Oh, yes, you can also carve hands and feet for your doll, and add them to the body and/or clothing when dried.

Bonus: Demonstrate Gravity

Remember the story about an apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton's head? That incident supposedly led to his discovery of gravity. This video compilation pays tribute to the concept. To celebrate Gravity Day (which was Monday), General Electric invited Vine users to record an apple drop, and then they strung the best of them together. Pay no attention to the fact that the apple changes color often. The whole idea is that it DROPS.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]