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What's the Right Way to Make a French 75?

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No matter the season, you can always find an occasion for festive champagne cocktails—and none are as well known as the French 75.

Supposedly named for the light artillery gun that became a symbol of victory in World War I, the French 75 cocktail has a convoluted history. One of the most widespread myths attached to it is that it was created in the trenches by English soldiers. These mythological soldiers somehow had gin, citrus, sugar, and champagne...but no cups. To celebrate a victory, they improvised by mixing and serving the cocktail in a shell casing from the field gun. As you may have discerned, it's unlikely that there is any truth to this origin story.

The more likely story is that it was invented in the 1910s in a bar in London. Until recently, the French 75 was cited as one of the only cocktails to have been created during Prohibition. But written records indicate that it first appeared in print in the 1919 edition of Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails. In the publication, MacElhone states that the drink was created in 1915. As the story goes, a bartender took the Tom Collins and substituted champagne for soda.

Although this version had the same ingredients as the modern French 75, there was one main difference: it was served on ice. By the time the recipe reached David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks in 1948, the ice had been removed, starting the modern trend of serving it in a champagne flute. This recipe also called for gin or brandy. One of the prevailing theories on the subject is that brandy was used to make the drink more French. Others call this configuration a French 125.

But its seemingly straightforward appearance in print is deceiving. The French 75 likely existed for centuries before it was given a name. Charles Dickens is known to have asked in 1867 for a Tom gin and champagne cup. As a champagne cup was made of sugar, citrus, and champagne, the addition of gin basically made it a French 75. This combination was popular with upper-class gentleman of that time, and even made its way across the pond (and then another pond), as it’s cited as the favorite drink of Kalakaua, the king of Hawaii.

This simple beverage was likely enjoyed without a name for years before it was stuck with the French 75 moniker. Although this may seem strange, the same thing happened with the old fashioned, the Sazarac, the daiquiri, the gimlet, and quite a number of other classic beverages.

Hit The Lab

French 75
From Henry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book.

1 1/2 oz gin
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
Champagne to top
Lemon twist

Measure all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled through. Strain into a champagne flute. Slowly top with champagne, and garnish with a lemon twist.

Charente Royale
From Kevin Diedrich, bar manager of Turnkey in San Francisco.

1 1/2 oz H by Hine cognac
1/2 oz elderflower liqueur
2 dashes absinthe
Sparkling wine to top
Orange twist

Combine all ingredients except sparkling wine in a shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled through. Double strain into a champagne flute and garnish with an orange twist

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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]