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10 Sticky Facts About Maple Syrup

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Savor every drop of this topping—assuming you’re using the real stuff, that is—because it sure isn't easy to make. Here are 10 tasty tidbits everyone should memorize before their next pancake supper.

1. It Takes Roughly 40 Gallons of Sap to Make 1 Gallon of Maple Syrup.

What’s with the skewered conversion rate? Fresh sap has a very low sugar content, yet high-quality maple syrup is composed, at minimum, of 66 percent sugar. Also, consider this: Most trees only yield 5 to 15 gallons of sap per season. Now that’s one labor-intensive liquid!

2. What’s Fake Maple Syrup Made With? You Might Not Wanna Know.  

Brands like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth use such ingredients as high fructose corn syrup, cellulose gum, and caramel coloring to create an inexpensive substance which only somewhat resembles the genuine article. Thus, their bottles are usually labeled “original,” “breakfast,” or “pancake” syrup. 

3. There’s an International Maple Syrup Institute.

Founded in 1975, the organization works “to promote and protect pure maple syrup and other maple syrup products.” Among other things, the IMSI is working to develop universal standards for syrup quality and consistency. Naturally, their meetings often include memorable breakfast buffets and, sometimes, this guy: 

4. It Comes in Several Color-Based Grades.

Canada’s system includes four hue-related categories: Extra Light (AA), Light (A), Medium (B), #2 Amber (C), and #3 Dark (D). Meanwhile, in the U.S., Grade A syrup is lighter in color while the Grade B variety is considerably darker and used largely for baking. However, Vermont has its own rubric which breaks down into the following brackets: “Golden Color with Delicate Taste,” “Amber Color with Rich Taste,” “Dark with Robust Taste,” and “Very Dark with Strong Taste.”

5. Today, About 80 percent of the World’s Supply Comes From Canada.

American producers once dominated this industry, but the Great White North’s since taken control: Quebec alone generates two-thirds of the globe’s syrup.

6. In Korea, Sap is Usually Preferred to Syrup.

The gorosoe, or “tree good for the bones,” is a Korean maple that’s been tapped by southern villagers since at least the ninth century. Locals consume its sap in huge quantities; drinking over 5 gallons in one sitting is a common practice.

7. Sap-Gathering Pumps Have Replaced Traditional Taps and Buckets Throughout North America.

“A vast number of maple operations are using tubing and vacuum sap collection,” says the Proctor Maple Research Center’s Dr. Abby van den Berg, who’s been developing a new suction-based method that targets saplings as opposed to fully-grown trees for harvesters with limited acreage.  

8. $18 Million Worth Was Recently Stolen From Quebec.

Just as OPEC maintains huge oil reserves, the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers keeps a tightly-guarded stockpile of maple syrup that’s dipped into and redistributed to various participants during lean production years. In 2012, shiftless crooks invaded the federation's primary warehouse and lifted 6 million pounds of the sweet stuff, making it one of the largest agricultural thefts ever perpetrated. Since then, 23 people have been arrested in conjunction with the case but, sadly, a third of the stolen syrup remains unaccounted for.

9. Alfred University’s Offered a Maple Syrup Course.

This Western New York school’s catalogue has, at times, included “Maple Syrup: The Real Thing." As the official course description explains, “The method of producing maple syrup is one of the things in our society that has endured even in today's culture of constant change ... This class will explore the history of maple syrup production, discover the ins and outs of making syrup, create (and eat) some sweet confections, and take field trips to local producers, restaurants and festivals. No prior experience expected.”

10. McDonald’s and The State of Vermont Once Got into a Legal Tussle Over False Syrup.

Vermonters definitely weren’t lovin’ it when a misleading snack called “Fruit & Maple Oatmeal” emerged from the Golden Arches in 2011. Local law dictates that it’s illegal to “use the word ‘maple’ on a product unless the sweetener is 100 percent pure maple." McDonald's’ new dish didn’t exactly meet this criteria, and the authorities cried foul. “The word 'maple' has a very specific meaning to Vermonters,” explained state Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross. “Vermont maple products are renowned not only for their flavor, but for their quality.” In an ensuing settlement, Mickey D’s agreed to start offering Green Mountain staters the option of coating their oatmeal orders with certified, honest-to-goodness maple syrup or sugar.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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