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What to Eat for Canada Day

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Today is Canada Day! We in the U.S. like to celebrate everyone else’s holidays, so we may as well join in the fun. We already know what to drink, so let’s take a look at Canadian cuisine. Some of these dishes stand out for their Canadian origins, whether it’s a native crop or a home-grown company. Others are just favorites, and are perceived as a little different from American cuisine. Canadians are invited to offer corrections, additions, and opinions.


Photograph by Jonathunder.

Poutine is a proud Canadian’s heart attack in a bowl, consisting of french fries, thick gravy, and cheese curds. We've looked at its invention by Quebec restaurateur Fernand Lachance in 1957, although there are some who claim other origin stories. Authentic poutine has to live up to Canadian tastes and tradition. If you want to try them at home, use a recipe from the dish’s source. Here’s one from French-Canadian chef Chuck Hughes.

Butter Tarts

Photograph by Themightyquill.

Butter tarts are a traditional dessert that Canada does not share with other countries. It’s a small flaky tart crust filled with sugar, butter, maple syrup, and eggs, then cooked until the top forms a bit of a crispy crust. The closest American analogy I can imagine is pecan pie without the pecans. But sometimes butter tarts have pecans, or raisins, or chocolate chips, which is a matter of taste, unless you’re a purist. You have a choice of many recipes

Kraft Dinner

Photograph from Kraft Dinner at Facebook.

What Americans know as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is packaged slightly differently in Canada as Kraft Dinner. If you think of the kit with the orange powder as a particularly American comfort food, listen to this: Canada, with a fraction of the population of the U.S., consumes a lot more blue boxes of macaroni and cheese than Americans. In fact, Kraft Dinner is the most-purchased grocery item in Canada.

This makes KD, not poutine, our de facto national dish. We eat 3.2 boxes each in an average year, about 55 percent more than Americans do. We are also the only people to refer to Kraft Dinner as a generic for instant mac and cheese. The Barenaked Ladies sang wistfully about eating the stuff: “If I had a million dollars / we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner / But we would eat Kraft Dinner / Of course we would, we’d just eat more.” In response, fans threw boxes of KD at the band members as they performed. This was an act of veneration.

You can see Barenaked Ladies doing an extended Kraft Dinner bit during a performance in Scotland in this video. The fun starts at about 3:20.

Tim Hortons Coffee and Doughnuts

Photograph by Flickr user Michael Gil.

Tim Hortons has restaurants in the U.S., but the company is known most for supplying Canada with coffee and doughnuts. The first Tim Hortons was opened in 1964 by hockey star Tim Horton in Hamilton, Ontario, selling only coffee and doughnuts. As the company grew, it became a big supporter and sponsor of hockey at all levels. The vast majority of ready-made coffee purchased in Canada comes from the over 3,000 Tim Hortons Canadian outlets.

Maple Syrup

Photograph by Kevstan.

This is a no-brainer: Canada produces 80% of the world’s maple syrup. What else would you expect from a country that has a maple leaf on its flag? Besides, it tastes so good with bacon! The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers even has a strategic maple syrup reserve, in which 40 million pounds of syrup were set aside in 2011. Americans learned of this reserve in 2012, when six million pounds of the syrup was stolen.

Nanaimo Bars

Photograph by Sheri Terris.

Nanaimo Bars are a dessert candy named after the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia. The recipe appeared in a cookbook under that name in 1953, although similar earlier recipes can be found. The concoction is basically a layer of wafer crumbs covered by vanilla or custard flavored buttercream icing and the whole thing is then coated with chocolate. There are plenty of recipes available online. I can’t imagine that any of them are not delicious.


Photograph by Flickr user Will Gurley.

What’s not to like about bacon? It goes so good with maple syrup! In 2010, a survey by Maple Leaf Foods found that 43% of Canadians would choose bacon over sex. At least that’s what they said when people from the bacon company came to ask.

Ketchup Chips

Photograph by Flickr user Patrick Lorenz.

The United States eats a lot of potato chips, and we have a reputation for putting ketchup on everything -except potato chips. That’s a Canadian treat. There are many brands of ketchup chips sold in Canada, but few are available in the U.S. Lay’s makes ketchup chips, but they are only sold in Canada

Of course, there are other foods that are associated with Canada: Pacific salmon, blueberries, Montreal bagels, and lots of other recipes. Like anywhere else, a lot of different people have a lot of different favorite foods. Happy Canada Day! Read more in our Canada Day archives.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]