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Mary Katherine Morris Photography

Bartending With Fire, Eggs, and Science to Impress Your Friends

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Mary Katherine Morris Photography

Knowing how to mix tasty cocktails will make you a hit at any party, but adding flair to the process can bring the house down. These two drink recipes will capture people's attention before they've even taken a taste. Be warned: Failure to practice these beforehand may result in the party tricks backfiring. Know what you're doing lest you start a fire or literally end up with egg on your face.

Unlocking Citrus With Fire

Citrus fruits store the majority of their aromatic oils in tiny sacs within their peels. When heated, the walls of these sacs weaken and bring that oil to the peel’s surface. Ejecting these oils through a flame vaporizes and ignites d-lemonene, the aromatic hydrocarbon that gives citrus fruits their smells.

This vapor will evenly distribute over the surface of your drink and provide the lingering scent of citrus to your cocktail. 

Hit the Lab

Orange peels are, in my experience, the easiest to flame. After choosing a firm one, cut a slice of peel about the size of a silver dollar and clean off any fruit that is still attached. Hold your lighter in your non-dominant hand and the peel in your dominant hand with the pith towards your palm. Pass the peel over the flame but don’t let the two come into contact. Repeat until the peel’s surface is shiny and your fingertips get warm.

Now, hold the lighter between the peel and the area over your cocktail. With the outside of the rind facing close to the flame, squeeze the peel.

The classic Negroni is a perfect test subject for a flamed garnish. The orange complements the bittersweet Campari and herbaceous gin perfectly, giving the classic Italian cocktail even more oomph.

Mary Katherine Morris Photography

1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 oz gin
1 orange peel

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir for 12-15 seconds or to taste. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a flamed orange peel using the practice above.

Cracking Up With Eggs

Eggs have been used in alcoholic beverages since before the word “cocktail” was coined. In addition to the "wow" factor of breaking out an egg to make a drink, egg whites give cocktails a creamy texture and a beautiful foam cap.

Since egg whites are mostly water and proteins, shaking them with citrus juice and sugar unravels and stretches out the protein chains, strengthening air bubbles' walls within your drink.

Concerned about salmonella? Per the CDC, the bacteria count in most infected eggs is way below a level that would make you sick. To be on the safe side, buy eggs that are as fresh and local as possible. Keep them refrigerated until you’re ready to use them and wash both the eggs and your hands before making the drink.

Hit the Lab

Depending who you talk to, a traditional whiskey sour includes an egg white for texture. The creaminess offsets the sour lemon juice and adds a fluffiness to its sweetness.

Traditional Whiskey Sour
1 egg white
1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
2 oz whiskey of your choice 

Add all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Shake without ice for 15-20 seconds to begin emulsifying the mixture and unraveling the proteins in the egg white. Add ice and shake for an additional 20-25 seconds to chill through. Strain into a glass to avoid excess dilution.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]