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Study Says We Eat More When Our Kitchens Are Messy

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Trying to lose weight? Other than joining a gym and eating more salads, you might want to consider cleaning your kitchen. According to NPR, a new study published in the journal Environment and Behavior indicates that we stress-eat when we’re surrounded by clutter.

To test how our living environments influence our eating habits, researchers from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab recruited 101 female undergraduates and put half of them in a neat kitchen, and the other half in a messy one filled with mail, newspapers, and unwashed dishes. Adding to the surface chaos, the messy kitchens were also filled with noisy distractions including a ringing phone and an intrusive professor.

After telling participants in both kitchens that they’d be examined for correlations between personality and taste preference, researchers gave them a writing assignment. Participants were instructed to write about a time where they felt out of control or in control. In the meantime, they were provided with an all-you-can-eat snack supply with choices ranging from healthy (carrots) to mildly healthy (crackers) to unhealthy (cookies).

Study organizers found that women in the messy kitchen who wrote about being out of control ate nearly twice as many calories from cookies—an average of 103 calories—than women who wrote about being out of control in the clean kitchen (61 calories in cookies). As for carrots and crackers, kitchen cleanliness didn’t greatly affect whether women ate more or less of them.

The study is limited in that researchers didn't assess how the writing assignments, the kitchens themselves, or the noises in the messy kitchen affected participants' emotions. However, the results suggest that spending time in a disorderly environment with a stressed mindset can trigger us to overeat indulgent foods.

“Being in a chaotic environment and feeling out of control is bad for diets. It seems to lead people to think, ‘Everything else is out of control, so why shouldn’t I be?’” says the study’s lead author, Lenny Vartanian, now an associate professor of psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “I suspect the same would hold with males.”

Bottom line? If you’re trying to stick to a diet, try tidying up. “It’s easier to spend five minutes cleaning up your kitchen than 24 hours trying to resist snacks,” senior study author Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design, told Reuters.

[h/t NPR]

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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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