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Wikimedia Commons

39 Dishes from the First Christmas Menu, Published in 1660

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Wikimedia Commons

If the thought of planning Christmas dinner makes you nervous, be glad you weren’t born in the Renaissance. The earliest known published Christmas menu included pork, beef, goose, lark, pheasant, venison, oysters, swan, woodcock, and "a kid with a pudding in his belly," to name just a few dishes.

This is according to The Accomplisht Cook, written by Robert May in 1660. May was an English chef who trained in France and cooked for nobility throughout his life. In a section titled "A bill of fare for Christmas Day and how to set the meat in order," May suggests 39 dishes split over two courses, plus oysters, oranges, lemons, and jellies for dessert. The menu is surprising not only because of its size, but because it contains so many proteins—there are 11 different types of birds alone—and not much else. Well, unless you count pastry. There’s lots of pastry, too.

A BILL OF FARE FOR CHRISTMAS DAY AND HOW TO SET THE MEAT IN ORDER:

Oysters
1. A collar of brawn [pork that is rolled, tied, and boiled in wine and seasonings].
2. Stewed Broth of Mutton marrow bones.
3. A grand Sallet [salad].
4. A pottage [thick stew] of caponets [young castrated roosters].
5. A breast of veal in stoffado [stuffed veal].
6. A boil’d partridge.
7. A chine [a cut of meat containing backbone] of beef, or sirloin roast. Here’s May’s recipe:

To roast a Chine, Rib, Loin, Brisket, or Fillet of Beef
Draw them with parsley, rosemary, tyme, sweet marjoram, sage, winter savory, or lemon, or plain without any of them, fresh or salt, as you please; broach it, or spit it, roast it and baste it with butter; a good chine of beef will ask six hours roasting.

For the sauce take strait tops of rosemary, sage-leaves, picked parsley, tyme, and sweet marjoram; and strew them in wine vinegar, and the beef gravy; or otherways with gravy and juice of oranges and lemons. Sometimes for change in saucers of vinegar and pepper.

8. Minced pies.
9. A Jegote [sausage] of mutton with anchove sauce.
10. A made dish of sweet-bread (Here’s a recipe from A New Booke of Cookerie by John Murrell, published in 1615: Boyle, or roast your Sweet-bread, and put into it a fewe Parboyld Currens, a minst Date, the yolkes of two new laid Egs, a piece of a Manchet grated fine. Season it with a little Pepper, Salt, Nutmeg, and Sugar, wring in the iuyce of an Orenge, or Lemon, and put it betweene two sheetes of puft-paste, or any other good Paste: and eyther bake it, or frye it, whether you please.)
11. A swan roast.
12. A pasty of venison.
13. A kid with a pudding in his belly.
14. A steak pie.
15. A hanch of venison roasted.
16. A turkey roast and stuck with cloves.
17. A made dish of chickens in puff paste.
18. Two bran geese roasted, one larded [larding is inserting or weaving strips of fat in the meat, sometimes with a needle].
19. Two large capons, one larded.
20. A Custard.

THE SECOND COURSE FOR THE SAME MESS.

Oranges and Lemons
1. A young lamb or kid.
2. Two couple of rabbits, two larded.
3. A pig souc’t [sauced] with tongues.
4. Three ducks, one larded.
5. Three pheasants, 1 larded.
6. A Swan Pye [the showpiece: a pie with the dead swan’s head, neck, and wings sticking up from it].
7. Three brace of partridge, three larded.
8. Made dish in puff paste.
9. Bolonia sausages, and anchoves, mushrooms, and Cavieate, and pickled oysters in a dish.
10. Six teels, three larded.
11. A Gammon of Westphalia Bacon.
12. Ten plovers, five larded.
13. A quince pye, or warden pie [pears or quinces peeled and poached in syrup, then baked whole in a pie].
14. Six woodcocks, 3 larded.
15. A standing Tart in puff-paste, preserved fruits, Pippins, &c.
16. A dish of Larks.
17. Six dried neats [calf] tongues
18. Sturgeon.
19. Powdered [salted] Geese.
Jellies.

And you know, nothing says Christmas like powdered geese and jellies.

This piece originally ran in 2013.

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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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