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20 Chocolate Facts for National Chocolate Day

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istock

Halloween isn't your only chance to sing the praises of chocolate this week. Today is National Chocolate Day, so in celebration of this most delicious holiday, let’s brush up on our chocolate knowledge.

1. There Are Multiple Celebrations of Chocolate Each Year.

Holiday makers are constantly on the hunt for a reason to munch on chocolate, so the calendar offers plenty of excuses to buy a bar. July 7 is also Chocolate Day, a nod to the historical tradition that the day marks when chocolate was first brought to Europe on July 7, 1550, though a number of sources argue that it might have hit the continent’s shores as far back as 1504, thanks to Christopher Columbus. Official day or not, we do know that chocolate first arrived in Europe some time in the 16th century. There's also National Milk Chocolate Day on July 28, International Chocolate Day on September 13, and, of course, National Bittersweet Chocolate With Almonds Day on November 7.

2. Chocolate Is Actually a Vegetable—Kind Of.

Milk and dark chocolate come from the cacao bean, which grows on the cacao tree (theobroma cacao), an evergreen from the family Malvaceae (other members of the family include okra and cotton). This makes the most important part of the sweet treat a vegetable.

3. White Chocolate Is Not Chocolate.

Because it doesn't contain cocoa solids or chocolate liquor, white chocolate isn't chocolate in the strict sense. But it does contain parts of the cacao bean—mainly cocoa butter.

4. The Cacao Bean Is Native to Mexico and Both Central and South America.

It’s believed that inhabitants of these areas first started cultivating the bean as far back as 1250 BCE, and perhaps even earlier.

5. Hot Chocolate Was The First Chocolate Treat.

Cacao was brewed in both Mexican and Aztec culture, though the result was nothing like today’s hot chocolate—it was a typically bitter concoction that was often used for ceremonial occasions like weddings.

6. Marie Antoinette Loved Hot Chocolate (The Modern Kind).

Marie didn’t just love cake, she also loved chocolate, and hot chocolate was frequently served at the Palace of Versailles. It wasn’t just the taste everyone loved—it was also believed that the drink was an aphrodisiac.

7. Cacao Was Once Used as Currency.

The Aztecs loved and valued the cacao bean so highly that they used it as currency during the height of their civilization.

8. Spanish Friars Helped Spread the Love.

After cacao and chocolate were introduced to Europe, traveling Spanish friars took it to various monasteries, handily spreading it around the continent.

9. A Pair of British Confectioners Invented Solid Chocolate.

The Fry and Sons shop concocted what they called “eating chocolate” in 1847 by combining cocoa butter, sugar, and chocolate liquor. This was a grainy, solid form of the treat.

10. Cocoa and Cacao Are the Same Thing.

The words are interchangeable! It’s all one bean.

11. Napoleon Loved Chocolate.

The French leader demanded that wine and chocolate be made available to him and his senior advisers even during intense military campaigns.

12. Baker's Chocolate Isn’t Just For Baking.

Dr. James Baker and John Hannon founded their chocolate company—later called Walter Baker Chocolate—in 1765. That’s where the term “Baker's Chocolate” comes from, not to denote chocolate that’s just meant for cooking.

13. Milton Hershey Really Was a Candy King.

The Pennsylvania native may be best known for starting The Hershey Chocolate Company in good old Hershey, PA, but he got his start in candy long before hooking up with chocolate. His founded his first company, The Lancaster Caramel Company, when he was 30 years old.

14. Milk Chocolate Was Invented in Switzerland

Daniel Peter created the tasty treat in 1875—after eight years of trying to make his recipe work. Condensed milk ended up being the key ingredient.

15. Making Chocolate Is Hard Work.

Despite its regal background and revered status, the cacao bean doesn’t just magically turn into chocolate—it takes about 400 beans to make a single pound of the good stuff.

16. The First Chocolate Bar Was Made in England.

Way back in 1842, the Cadbury company made the very first chocolate bar. The company is still in existence, and is perhaps most famous for their delightful Easter-themed treats.

17. Most Cacao Is Now Grown in Africa.

Despite its Amazonian roots, most cacao—nearly 70 percent of the world’s supply—comes from Africa. The Ivory Coast is the largest single producer, providing about 30 percent of all the world’s cacao.

18. Cacao Trees Can Live to Be 200 Years Old.

That may sound impressive, but the tropical beauties only make viable cacao beans for just 25 years of their lifespan.

19. There Are Two Kinds of Cacao.

Most modern chocolate comes from forastero beans, which are considered easy to grow—though the crillo bean is believed to make much tastier chocolate.

20. Chocolate Has a Special Melting Point.

Chocolate is the only edible substance to melt around 93° F, just below the human body temperature. That’s why chocolate melts so easily on your tongue.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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]

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