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Uncommon Goods

11 Gifts for the Beer Geek in Your Life

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Uncommon Goods

The beer lover in your life doesn’t need another hilarious “Will Work for Beer” t-shirt this year. Instead, try one of these options.

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1. 99 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL SCRATCH-OFF; $35

It can be hard to find tasteful home décor that reflects a love of beer, and it can be just as tough to keep track of the brews you’ve tried. This print from Pop Chart Lab cleverly solves both issues by featuring 99 lauded beers—from American classics like Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust to European stalwarts like Drie Fonteinen’s Oude Geuze—in a scratch-off format. When your brew-loving buddy tries a new beer, he or she can scratch it off to track their progress. It’s like an instant lottery game, except they win every time.

Find It: Pop Chart Lab

2. UKEG 64 PRESSURIZED GROWLER; $139

Growlers offer a great way to bring home a beer that doesn’t make its way into cans or bottles, but they’re not perfect. Unless you plan to drink all 64 ounces in a single sitting, you’re likely to end up with flat beer. Present a solution: The uKeg 64 Pressurized Growler uses a CO2 cartridge to ensure that the last pour from this growler is as lively as the first, and its custom tap makes it easy to pour one out.

Find It: Amazon

3. THE OXFORD COMPANION TO BEER; $43

Beer lovers can be a little obsessive about their passion, and if you’re shopping for someone who’s thirsty for knowledge, there’s no better place to start than this comprehensive reference. Edited by Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver, the Oxford Companion crams an incredible amount of information about beer culture, history, styles, brewing methodologies, and more into 900 pages. Even the most well-versed know-it-all will learn something from this text. And if you’re shopping for a beer-loving foodie, Oliver’s classic The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food makes an excellent gift, too.

Find It: Amazon

4. BEER CAP MAP OF THE UNITED STATES; $35

Brewers keep making more intricate and beautiful bottle caps, and it’s a shame to just chuck that art into the trash each time you pop a bottle. If your giftee is trying to drink their way through all 50 states, this fun wooden map helps them keep track of progress while preserving standout caps.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

5. LIBBEY CRAFT BREW SAMPLER CLEAR BEER GLASS SET; $25

Pouring a beer into a glass enhances the whole sensory experience each sip offers. By allowing the user to better see and smell what they're drinking, the glass is a valuable aid in fully enjoying each brew. And since different shapes of glasses suit different styles of beer, a beer geek’s glassware collection can never be too large. While there’s a dizzying variety of cool brewery-branded glassware on the market, this six-piece set from Libbey covers all the bases and enables your favorite beer geek to sip everything from dense Russian imperial stouts to refreshing German hefeweizens. Plus, at just $25, it's a steal.

Find It: Amazon

6. BROOKLYN BREW SHOP BEER MAKING KIT; $38

With a little know-how and the right recipe, home brewers can make beers that rival the offerings of their commercial counterparts. If someone on your list wants to dip their toe into the home brewing waters, Brooklyn Brew Shop offers kits that come with almost everything they'll need to make a gallon of beer. With styles ranging from Everyday IPA to Chocolate Maple Porter to Jalapeno Saison, there’s something for everyone.

Find It: Amazon

7. BEER SOAP; $10

For a number of reasons, it can be hard to enjoy a delicious, hoppy IPA whenever you want one. Enter the next best thing: catching a pleasant whiff of brew. Swag Brewery craft soaps made with real beer. Available in nine varieties—including oatmeal stout, IPA, and Belgian witbier—these soaps will finally give you even more reason to wash your hands.

Find It: Amazon

8. DAS CAN-IN-STEIN; $10

Drinking from a pewter tankard is a great way to add a colonial-grog-house vibe to an evening, but it’s not always practical. Das Can-In-Stein changes that. Your loved one just needs to slip their favorite 12-ounce can into the frame and enjoy.

Find It: Amazon

9. BEER CARRYING BRIEFCASE; $40

Traveling with a six-pack can be tricky. You want to be inconspicuous, but you’ve got that bulky shape and bottles inevitably jingling together conspiring to blow your cover. Help a brew-loving buddy out. This padded briefcase securely holds a six-pack of standard 12-ounce bottles, enabling them to safely transport suds from point A to point B—all while feeling just a little bit like a secret agent.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

10. WESTMARK GERMAN HERMETUS RESEALER BOTTLE OPENER; $6

Downing an entire 22-ounce bomber of a boozy imperial stout or double IPA in a single sitting can be a delicious but questionable decision. With Westmark’s clever bottle opener, saving part of the bottle for the next day is a little easier. The Hermetus opener pops caps like normal, but once your giftee is ready to call it quits, it slides across the top of the bottle to form a tight, bubble-preserving seal.

Find It: Amazon

11. BEER; PRICE VARIES

Don’t overthink this. If you’re shopping for a beer lover, you can’t go wrong picking up a six-pack or growler as part of the gift. Free beer is the best beer, and you might get your recipient something they would have overlooked on their own shopping trips. If you’re traveling for the holidays, you’re sure to put a smile on a beer lover’s face by bringing them a local offering they can’t normally get their hands on. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a holiday gift pack that throws in a free glass with a few bottles.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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