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10 Apps for Smarter Drinking

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Keeping up with all the boozy beverages you like can be difficult even if you’re in the industry. Finding new ones to try can be even more difficult, especially if your memory for drink names isn’t what it used to be. Luckily, there are apps for that. To help you continue to drink smarter—not harder—we’ve put together a list of apps that will help you make the hard decisions about the hard stuff. Curious winos, beer lovers, and cocktail aficionados, rejoice! 

1. DELECTABLE

Many sommeliers use Delectable to catalog their drinking experiences. Scan wine labels to access Delectable's database of reviews, ratings, and descriptions. To keep track of your favorites, leave your own reviews. If you get thirsty while browsing, tap the shopping bag icon to install Delectable's Banquet app for one-touch ordering.

Find it: Android, iOS

2. VIVINO

Similar to Delectable, Vivino also allows you to compare two wines and comparison shop—it shows you the best deals on the web. You can also scan the wine list at a restaurant in order to find the highest-rated bottle on the list.

Find it: Android, iOS 

3. UNTAPPD

Beer more your bag? Download Untappd to tap into a social network of beer lovers. Earn badges, connect with other hop heads, and find beers and bars near you.

Find it: Android, iOS

4. BEER SATCHEL

For those who’d rather drink alone, Beer Satchel may be preferable to log your drinking—and what’s in your cellar. Scan barcodes—or search the app manually—for whatever you’re tasting (or hoping to try) and sort the beers into categories like “Meh” or “Must Try,” or save them for later in “Your Satchel.” 

Find it: iOS

5. BREWERY PASSPORT

In recent years, craft breweries have popped up in even the smallest towns. This bare bones app allows you to track down nearby breweries, buy beer, join beer clubs, and book tastings. Stamp your digital passport each time you visit a new brewery to keep track of your travels. 

Find it: Android, iOS

6. ONTHEBAR

Tracking down your favorite bartender has never been easier. onthebar lets you create a profile based on what you usually drink and then gives you an "insider's look" at your local bar scene in order to help you find your new go-to watering hole. Find out where the industry's top bartenders are working working and when they’re on shift. Or, ask the bar to save you a seat (limited offering) or send the bartender your ETA. It also works as a social network, letting you connect with others, like bartenders’ drinks, and tell your friends when you visit a bar.

Find it: Android, iOS

7. BARNOTES

Whether you’re at home or at the bar, remembering what you’re drinking becomes increasingly challenging with each sip. If you’re looking to record the fancy concoctions you try during your night out in one place, grab BarNotes. When you get home, browse the recipes (compiled from professionals and armchair mixologists alike) to make your favorites for yourself. 

Find it: iOS

8. MIXOLOGY

If you’d rather stay home and make a drink out of what you have in the cupboard, Mixology may be the app for you. Search for recipes based on what you have in your liquor cabinet, or if you’re feeling lucky, use Mixology's "Random" feature to have a cocktail generated for you based your selected criteria, such as liquor and glass type.

Find it: Android, iOS

9. SPEAKEASY COCKTAILS

As much as it hurts to spend $10 on an app, Speakeasy Cocktails is a great option if you’re looking to step deep into the world of craft cocktails. With video tutorials and hundreds of recipes, the content alone surpasses what most others can offer. 

Find it: iOS

10. DISTILLER

When Distiller first launched in 2014, it only covered whiskey. But since they relaunched last year, they’ve offered reviews, recommendations, and information about all dark spirits. 

Find it: Android, iOS

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technology
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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