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10 Items You Should Keep In Your Freezer

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Getty

Your freezer is probably stocked with frozen pizzas and pints of ice cream, but the chilliest part of your fridge could be doing more. If stocked right, the freezer could be utilized in ways that could save money, prolong the life of products, and make you look like a well-prepared host who is always ready for impromptu guests. Here are 10 items you should always keep stashed.

1. CHICKEN STOCK

We’re not talking about the stuff at the store that comes in a can or a box. The next time you make a rotisserie chicken (or buy one ready-made), make a quick stock out of the leftover bits. Throw it in your freezer and you’ll have a rich, delicious liquid on hand that will make your soups, pastas, and sauces exponentially more flavorful.

2. BATTERIES

You may have heard that keeping batteries in your freezer will extend their shelf life, and that's true, but only for specific types. Putting your run-of-the-mill alkaline batteries on ice isn't going to make much of a difference, but the Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) batteries that are often used in electronics—that's a different story. Those self-discharge a few percent every day, but storing them at low temps will help slow that down. (You'll want to bring them to room temperature before putting them to use, however.)

3. PEAS

A bag of frozen peas serves a dual purpose. You can eat them, of course. But frozen peas can also soothe an injury in a way that other ice packs can’t. The individual peas in the bag can be molded around an achy body part more easily than other forms of relief (like, say, the stereotypical slab of meat).

4. COOKIES

The next time you make a batch of cookie dough, resist the urge to eat it all. Scoop the mixture into single cookies as if you were going to bake them. Then, freeze the dough in an airtight container or plastic bag. Later, you can pull out a cookie or two and bake whenever you’ve got a craving for something sweet.

Another option: Go ahead and bake the cookie dough but instead of digging in afterward, seal the sweets in an airtight container and throw them in the freezer. When you have guests, pull the cookies out to thaw and wow them with no-fuss, made-from-scratch treats.

5. CANDLES

Before you burn a new candle, toss it in the freezer for a day. Keeping it cool will chill the wax and extend the candle's burning time. This little trick is especially helpful for tapers, which are notoriously fast burners. You can also freeze your jar candles when they're spent. This helps loosen up the remaining wax, making it easier to pop out what's left of the candle so that you can reuse the jar.

6. HERBS

Want fresh herbs all year-round without paying a premium price? Buy them at a farmer’s market when they’re in season, then freeze. Serious Eats tested several methods and determined that covering chopped herbs in canola or olive oil prior to freezing is the best way to retain flavor and texture.

7. CRUMBLE TOPPING

Crumble topping—usually a mixture of butter, sugar, and flour—is delicious and versatile. Unfortunately, making it can be time-consuming. Instead of whipping up a fresh batch every time a recipe calls for it, make a large amount and freeze it. When you need crumble as a topping for coffee cake, pie, cobbler, or ice cream, you'll save both time and effort by reaching into the freezer and pulling out a cup of the sweet stuff.

8. WINE

Have leftover wine? Pour it into ice cube trays to make individual cubes. You can use them later as a creative way to chill a glass of red or white from a fresh bottle or in soups, stews, coq au vin, or any other recipes that call for a splash of vino.

9. PLASTIC WRAP

If you've ever experienced cling wrap that's a bit too clingy, you know how frustrating it can be. But if you store your rolls of wrap in the freezer, the material will be less likely to stick to itself. Don't worry; it'll still have enough oomph to cover bowls and plates.

10. ICE

It may sound like a no-brainer, but keep a fresh batch of ice on hand. You never know when guests might stop by, and if you haven't refreshed your stock in a few days, you could be too low to serve them. Worse, you could have ice that has picked up flavors from other items in your freezer. Either way, it's best to refresh your ice box every few days.

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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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