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Christine via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

12 Uses for Pickle Juice

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Christine via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you love pickleswhether sweet, dill, garlic, or bread-and-butteryou should be using that delicious leftover pickle juice for other things once they're gone. Here are a few suggestions.

1. SALAD AND OTHER DRESSINGS

Any recipe for homemade salad dressing that calls for vinegar can be made extra tasty by substituting pickle juice. In fact, you can substitute pickle juice for most recipes that call for vinegar, like gazpacho, or add extra pickle juice along with your pickle relish in potato salad, macaroni salad, tuna salad, or deviled eggs.  

2. PICKLED VEGETABLES

Once the pickles are gone, take that jar and fill it with other fresh vegetables: carrots, peppers, broccoli, beets, cauliflower, or onions. Place the jar back in the refrigerator, and in a day or two you will have tasty pickled raw vegetables. In large pieces, they make great snacks. In small pieces, the resulting homemade relish can liven up salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, or tacos. The pickling process also works with hard boiled eggs, if you can squeeze them into the jar.

3. MARINADE

bitslammer via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Soaking meats in pickle juice before cooking will tenderize the outside (which, due to complex interactions, gives the impression of more tender meat) and add flavor. It works for chicken, pork, or beef. Depending on your taste, you may want to use it full-strength or diluted with water or milk. You can also marinate vegetables in pickle juice before baking or grilling. Discard the marinade after one use.

4. FISH

Many people add lemon juice to fish while cooking or at the table, but you can substitute pickle juice for a new and different flavor. It'll add a vinegary zest to any kind of fish, although if the pickle juice is colored yellow, you should dilute it with water to avoid turning the meat yellow.

5. BREAD

Make your own tasty rye bread for sandwiches, using dill pickle juice for flavor. It's the key ingredient for a slightly tangy edge to a loaf that's ready to be slathered in mustard and piled high with pastrami, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut.

6. POPSICLES

amanda via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Frozen pickles on a stick are quite popular in some areas, particularly Texas. They even have snow cones topped with pickle juice! You get the same kick with frozen pickle juice on a stick, sometimes called a “pickle sickle.” You can make them at home with mashed pickles or with juice only.

7. PICKLE SOUP

This recipe for pickle soup uses both pickles and pickle juice on top of potatoes, carrots, and onions, as well as sour cream and extra dill. How could that combination be anything but delicious?  

8. COCKTAILS

Edson Hong via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you normally add lime, tomato juice, or clam juice to beer, a spoonful of pickle juice will only make that concoction tastier. A dash of pickle juice is also recommended to spice up a Bloody Mary, and there's always the Pickleback, which is a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice. This is a popular method for “improving” cheap whiskey, although if you like it, you might even want to try it with tequila. Last but not least, be sure to try out the Pickletini, a martini made with pickle juice.

9. SPORTS DRINK

Pickle juice in water is also a popular substitute for sports drinks, because it contains plenty of sodium and electrolytes with less sugar than commercial sports drinks. There is some evidence that it can help with muscle cramps, too, and some baseball pitchers use it to ward off blisters.

10. ACIDIFYING SOIL

colleen via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

If you have colored hydrangeas, they will tend to bloom blue if the pH of the soil is low, or acidic. You can aid this process by adding a splash of pickle juice to your watering can. But the blue only shows up if there is also aluminum in the soil, which may require the addition of aluminum sulphate. If you have more alkaline soil, they will bloom pink (add lime to help).

11. CLEANING COPPER

If your copper pots have tarnished, set the bottom of the pot in a pan of pickle juice for 15 minutes. The tarnish should come off easily thanks to the acidity.

12. FRUIT FLY TRAP

Some people use apple cider vinegar to easily trap the critters hanging around their gardens, but if you don't have any, pickle juice works in a pinch. Use a small container of pickle juice with a drop of liquid dishwashing detergent in it. The vinegary brine attracts the flies, and the soap makes it difficult for them to escape.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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