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15 Strange and Awesome Cookbooks

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Amazon.com

Beyond Julia Child, Anthony Bourdain and even Alton Brown exists a culinary world limited only by human imagination and gag reflex. Here we explore some lesser known but very intriguing cookbooks.

1. Giggle Water

This self-published recipe book told its 1928 readers how to make delightful, Prohibition-flaunting giggle drinks, including “Eleven Famous Cocktails of The Most Exclusive Club in New York.” Drinks such as The Bronx, The Astor, The Bacardi, The Clover, and The Dry Martini were among the recipes. The book recently sold from AbeBooks for £1,200.

2. Cookin’ with Coolio

This may very well be as much a piece of performance art as it is a cookbook. Coolio promises that his Crazy Pollo Salad "easily serves 4 crazy motherf****ers" and introduces readers to his own take on classic foreign dishes, such as Ghettalian (ghetto Italian). Reviewers rate it high for its recipes and even higher for being funny.

3. Odd Bits

Throughout most of history and in many parts of the world today, a person would have to be crazy to throw out perfectly edible pieces of animals just because they weren’t prime cuts. Odd Bits puts modern zest in ancient and impoverished diets with recipes on how to cook ears, feet, hearts, lungs, gizzards, kidneys, brains, testicles, intestines, and more.

4. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes

It can’t be all lickable Snozzberries and edible flower teacups in Roald Dahl’s world. Revolting Recipes, written by Dahl’s wife Felicity, offers up both dismal fare such as Mr. Twit's Beard Food (mashed potatoes, eggs, mushrooms, and cocktail weenies) and some which is more promising, like Eatable Marshmallow Pillows. Perfect for especially strange children.

5. Fifty Shades of Chicken

“I want you to see this. Then you’ll know everything. It’s a cookbook,” he says, and opens to some recipes, with color photos. “I want to prepare you, very much.” There’s pulling, jerking, stuffing, trussing. Fifty preparations. This book is available on Kindle, to offer privacy for the discreet chef.

6. Forme of Cury

Read the recipes of Richard II’s personal chef in this 600-year-old cookbook. Or try to, anyway. They’re written in Middle English. “Nym kedys and chekenys and hew hem in morsellys and seth hem in almand mylk or in kyne mylke grynd gyngyner galingale and cast therto and boyle it and serve it forthe.” Once you figure that out, you’re in for some good pottage.

7. Special Effects Cookbook

Published in 1992, this still locatable family-fun cookbook promises “Easy to create recipes for food that Smokes, Erupts, Moves, Sings, Glows, Talks, Cracks, Pops, and Swims!” A great way to sneak science into your children’s pastries.

8. The Gay Cookbook

Written in 1965, Lou Rand Hogan (creator of the first gay detective, called The Gay Detective, also in 1965) is proud and loud in a time where it was dangerous to be so. He delights in the single entendre (“Chapter Seven. What to do with a Tough Piece of Meat.”) and embraces all the negativity directed at gays of the day with a fierce acceptance: “So we’ll offer here a sort of nonsensical cookbook for the androgynous (don’t bother to look it up, Maude. It means 'limp-wristed')." A whole new take on the 1960s.

9. TV Suppers

It’s so refreshing to see what most families consider their shameful secret given the dignity of 1960s elegance. Eating on the floor while watching game shows does not make you less of a person.

10. The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook

Bates knows the apocalypse, or “The Great Change,” is coming, but he’s not bummed. In fact, in a way it’s something to look forward to, a chance to rebuild a proper society from the ashes of the oil-dependent, chemically treated, artificial wasteland we live in now. Besides recipes for homegrown food, he also includes information on food storage, waste disposal, and rebuilding civilization.

11. The Pyromaniac’s Cookbook

You will be amazed how much food and drink can be improved by setting it on fire.

12. The “Why I’m Such a Fat Bastard” Recipe Book

A cookbook for all who believe Truth is Beauty. Buster is really sick of Kindle diet books. So he made his own Kindle book, showing how to make British desserts. It’s filled with butter and cream and sugar and even some bad language for good measure.

13. Official Star Trek Cooking Manual

Today there's an updated publication of Star Trek cookery, and there have been endless unofficial imitators, but this was the first and the official. Printed in 1978, when the franchise was still sacred to a relatively small number of Trekkers, this is for true academy-trained cadets only. Mr. Scott’s Scot’s Broth. Dr. McCoy’s Cornbread. Romulan stew. They’re all here. (Bonus: Compiled by a woman named “Piccard.” That’s got to mean something.)

14. The Lucretia Borgia Cookbook

A trendier cookbook featuring the favorite recipes of dead celebrities is currently in publication. But TLBC came first (1971). It is based on the idea that “the same good taste that enables one to paint fraudulent masterpieces incongruously carries over into the blending of white sauce. As students of both history and psychology, we should therefore have been prepared for an accidental discovery made during our research into foods of antiquity: notoriously sinister people ate more interesting, and frequently better, food than did most of their counterparts.”

15. Cooking Apicius

The Apicius is an even more ancient cookbook than the Forme of Cury, dating from around the 4th century. It’s a collection of recipes intended to be cooked for wealthy Romans of the era. Grainger translates the recipes and attempts to make them feasible for a modern cook while still retaining the taste of antiquity. It might mean a little rotting fish paste here and there, but if it was good enough for Caesar it’s good enough for you.
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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