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The Best Bakery in All 50 States

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There’s bread, and then there’s the kind of bread that inspires a line around the block. The kind that’s too good to make into toast. We’ve combed the country and found you the very best loaves, rolls, pastries, and pies from sea to shining sea.


Location: Huntsville, Alabama

Bring one of Mason Dixon’s chewy, hearty loaves to your next potluck and you’ll be the hit of the party—especially among guests who can’t eat gluten. Every single one of the Huntsville bakery’s breads, bagels, cookies, cupcakes, and pies is completely gluten-free. Want to kick your grilled cheese up a notch? Try starting with Mason Dixon’s zippy, creamy jalapeño cheddar bread.


Location: Homer, Alaska

Donna Maltz started her bakery in the 1970s with a portable oven, a delivery van, and a wildly ambitious dream: to bring delicious, healthy food to the remote community of Homer, Alaska. It took a little while to catch on, but today the Fresh Sourdough Express Bakery & Café is one of the area's best-loved treasures. Start with Donna’s famous sourdough loaf, sample local meat, seafood, and vegetables, and don’t forget to save room for dessert.


Location: Phoenix, Arizona

Bread aficionados passing through the southwest will want to make a pit stop in Phoenix for a few loaves at Noble Bread. Their bakers are traditionalists, kneading salt, organic flour, water, and yeast into rustic loaves before baking them on a stone hearth. The bakery produces three highly sought-after breads each week: their classic, fluffy-crumbed country loaf; an ancient grain variety with emmer, Kamut, einkorn, or spelt; and a fruit-and-nut bread.


Location: Fayetteville, Arkansas

There’s a yellow house in Fayetteville that makes some of the best bread in the Ozarks. Dan and Karen Dantzler founded Stone Mill Bread in 1997 as a way to keep their family close to the community. And as their passion and talent for baking grew, so did their fan base. Savvy patrons buy twice as many loaves, kolaches, or cinnamon rolls as they need—half to keep, and half to give as gifts to very lucky friends and family.


Location: Petaluma, California

Kathleen Weber started baking bread first for her family, then for her friends, then for her neighbors. Her circle of fans grew and grew and Weber soon found herself sending loaves over to chefs at exclusive Sonoma restaurants. More than 20 years later, Weber and the team at Della Fattoria ("of the farm" in Italian) hand-shape between 400 and 1200 loaves of bread each night, from ciabatta and polenta to pain de campagne and pumpkin seed. Locals recommend the bakery’s zingy, beautiful rosemary-Meyer lemon bread.


Location: Denver, Colorado

The only thing more impressive than a stack of fragrant, fresh "Laundry" baguettes from the Denver Bread Company might be the bakery’s towering pile of awards, including a shout-out from Bon Appétit. Not satisfied with acclaim and fantastic loaves, the bakery also donates bread every day to food banks, shelters, and meal delivery services for people living with life-threatening illnesses.


Location: Bantam, Connecticut

Niles Golovin left his job as a restaurant chef in New York City for a quieter life in the Connecticut suburbs. He started baking part-time and quickly got hooked, eventually studying the craft under a master baker and opening the French-style Bantam Bread Company with his wife and daughter. The bakery’s offerings are as good-looking as they are flavorful; we recommend the Calamata Olive Sourdough and the Semolina Batard.


Location: Newark, Delaware

Voted Best Bakery several years running by Delaware Today, Bing’s has been operating for 70-plus years in Newark and is known in the area for their trademark, elaborately decorated Easter egg cakes. For the rest of the year, customers come back time and again for their sugary pastries and dainty petit fours.


Location: Yalaha, Florida

For Old World breads, look no further than this German gem in central Florida. Since 1995, Yalaha has been serving Bee Stings (yeast cakes with Bavarian cream), Berliner Brotchen (Berlin-style breakfast rolls), and a variety of pretzels and rye. The bakery also offers tours of their kitchen for inquiring groups, and weekend visitors can grab a drink in the in-house beer garden and enjoy live music.


Location: Savannah, Georgia

A much-celebrated sweet shop, Back in the Day goes vintage in both its décor and its menu. Rather than keep up with food trends, owners Cheryl and Griffith Day focus on perfecting classic favorites like chocolate cake and cinnamon buns (which are available on Saturdays only). Other times, you may be able to catch a slice of their Brown Sugar Banana Bread.


Location: Aiea, Hawaii

Who says a bakery housed in a bowling alley can’t deliver the goods? The Alley specializes in crunch cakes—lemon, pumpkin, pistachio, and strawberry—that deliver a unique texture, though you can always grab a PB&J scone while hitting the lanes.


Location: Boise, Idaho

Idaho may not be the first place you think of for delicious French pastries, but that would be to ignore Janjou, which serves croissants and other decadent Parisian goods courtesy of co-owner Moshit Mizrachi-Gabbitas. The storefront filled to the brim with pastries, tarts, and quiches, and business is brisk enough that Janjou doesn’t advertise, relying exclusively on word of mouth.


Location: Chicago, Illinois

Since 1930, Chicago residents have endorsed Weber’s fully-made-from-scratch selection as the finest in a city that has no shortage of eateries. Rocky Road brownies are a popular attraction, as are the hand-cut kolacky, and banana split torte cakes, which are known locally as BSTs.


Location: Indianapolis, Indiana

The first thing to greet you at Cake Bake after the smell is the setting: The bakery is a converted cottage that seats patrons for lunch (quiche, sandwiches) or a treat. The store’s selection of cakes and pies—particularly the apple—routinely make "Best of" lists in the state, and there’s typically a line forming most mornings for the trademark caramel cake. Owner Gwendolyn Rogers was even honored with a Best Taste and Presentation nod at the 2013 London Cake and Bake Show for her chocolate recipe, which was then requested by Elton John for a Paris engagement.


Location:: Des Moines, Iowa

If warm cookies delivered to your door are the key to a good day, then living in a zip code near Thelma’s would be a wise move. The bakery serves cookies warm and even brings them to doorsteps in an oven-shaped cardboard box. In the summer, the cookies are baked and then used to squish fresh ice cream scoops for homemade ice cream sandwiches.


Location: Lawrence, Kansas

WheatFields Bakery Café in Lawrence bakes more than 18 different types of loaves, from a sourdough made with its own signature culture to French bread made with stone-ground wheat to a kalamata olive bread that Artisan Baking author Maggie Glezer once called "the best I’ve ever eaten." The bakers at WheatFields are true experts: The History Channel visited the bakery for a wheat-themed episode of Modern Marvels in 2008, interviewing then-head baker Tom Leonard for a lesson in types of wheat flours and ancient baking techniques.


Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Blue Dog Bakery and Café spends up to 48 hours crafting every one of the 1000 loaves it sells per day. Eater Louisville calls owner Bob Hancock "the undisputed king of Louisville bakers," and he and his wife and co-owner, Kit Garrett, are something of local celebrities. The bakery has a variety of French and Italian country loaves, but it’s not the only place you can sample Blue Dog’s bread—the bakery is the supplier for more than 20 different restaurants in the Louisville area.


Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Master baker Graison Gill opened Bellegarde in his early twenties, shortly after finishing baking school in California, and has been single-minded in his commitment to bring great bread to New Orleans ever since, using its own fresh, stone-ground grains that are largely sourced from local growers. The bakery is named after François Lemesle—known as Bellegarde—who opened one of the first bakeries in New Orleans in the 1720s. Bellegarde accepts orders online for pick-up the following day (it’s only open until 2 p.m.) and sells its bread through several retail stores. The bakery also offers regular workshops for aspiring bread makers.


Location: South Portland, Maine

The secret ingredient behind many of Scratch Baking’s beloved breads is LuLu, the sourdough starter that co-owner and head baker Allison Reid began in her kitchen more than a decade ago and has been carefully tended to every day since. LuLu goes into the bakery’s sourdough as well as its ciabatta and multigrain breads—plus the bakery’s renowned hand-rolled bagels, which are so popular the company had to move its baking operations to another location to make room for the hordes of people who wait in line for them every day. If you want to ensure you get a bagel, you’d better arrive before 10 a.m. But don’t worry, night owls: baguettes are only available after 11 a.m., so at least you can snag one of those.


Location: Catonsville, Maryland

Located just outside of Baltimore, The Breadery features a huge selection of specialty, preservative-free breads, from honey whole wheat loaves to smoked gouda rolls, and their whole grains are stone-milled on-site daily. While you’re there, taste-test one of the shop’s large selection of flavored olive oils—perfect for pairing with your new favorite breads.


Location: Housatonic and Pittsfield, Massachusetts

No trip to western Massachusetts should skip over Berkshire Mountain Bakery, where baker Richard Bourdon has been selling European-style breads since 1986. Born in Quebec, Bourdon learned to bake in the Netherlands, where he ran one of the first bakeries in Holland to revive traditional sourdough fermentation techniques. Berkshire Mountain Bakery has since been heralded as one of the best bread bakeries in the nation by the likes of Saveur and Bon Appétit and featured in the Netflix documentary series Cooked. Make sure to try the famous Bread & Chocolate loaf, which has Belgian chocolate folded into the dough.


Location: Traverse City, Michigan

Pleasanton Bakery has been a forerunner in Northern Michigan’s local food movement for decades. Its bread is naturally leavened using a sourdough starter its bakers have fed for more than 20 years, and it's made in wood-burning ovens with only organic, Michigan-grown grains. Currently run by Jonathan St. Hilaire, an award-winning pastry chef who has worked at venerable restaurants and bakeries in New York City and Atlanta, Pleasanton Bakery has been named one of the best places to get bread in America by Food & Wine magazine, and in 2015, Mario Batali called its date and fennel loaf with sea salt one of his favorite food finds of the year.


Location: Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, Minnesota

For more than a decade, Rustica Bakery has been the place to go for fresh bread in the Twin Cities. In 2015, Rustica Bakery founder Stephen Horton was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s "Outstanding Baker" award, and while he’s no longer with the shop, the new bakers at the ovens are just as obsessed with churning out consistently great bread by hand. And though Rustica is known to have some of the best challah in the region, don’t stop there—it has seven regular breads on daily offer and multiple specials throughout the week.


Location: Ridgeland, Mississippi

Years ago, investment banker-turned-baker Gil Turchin turned to the kitchen to relieve stress and discovered that he loved making bread. A two-week intensive course at the French Culinary Institute convinced Turchin to switch careers, and he honed his skills at a bakery in Fort Worth, Texas for 12 years before moving to Ridgeland, Mississippi in 2013 and opening Gil’s Bread. Today, Gil sells a variety of artisanal breads and offers bread-making classes focusing on old-world techniques. Home bakers can even purchase a sourdough starter upon request.


Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Artisan breads take center stage at Companion, the wholesale bakery and café founded by Missouri native Joshua Allen in 1993. Customers can enjoy crusty, European-style loaves, or support local farmers by purchasing breads made with locally grown and milled grains. For a true oven-to-table experience, visitors who swing by Companion’s new headquarters in West St. Louis can even watch bread being made and learn how to bake it themselves. And, Companion's pastries are also worth a mention—try the MOMO, a rolled brioche dough pastry with cinnamon and sugar.


Location: Missoula, Montana

Bernice's Bakery opened in Missoula, Montana in 1978, and quickly became a beloved community institution. Word of their scrumptious molasses cookies, billowy croissants, and deli-style sandwiches, made with fresh, house-baked bread, spread so widely that PBS even featured Bernice’s in their 2015 documentary A Few Great Bakeries. While paying a visit, don’t be too star-struck if you run into Marco Littig, the bakery’s co-owner, who served as real-life inspiration for the character "Paul" in Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling autobiography, Wild.


Location: La Vista, Nebraska

Rotella’s Italian Bakery—and its rustic-style loaves and rolls—are a longstanding family tradition. The business began with 19th-century Italian master baker Domenico Rotella, who passed his knowledge down to son Alessandro. In 1909, Alessandro Rotella left the Old Country for America, settled in Omaha, and purchased a bakery. His fledgling business grew into a larger, successful one, and is today run by Alessandro grandson, Louis Rotella Jr. The bakery produces hundreds of bread varieties, but the business also stays true to its old-school roots. Try their special Split Hard Roll, or the Vienna, a thick, sliced Italian loaf.


Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Carlos Pereira left his native Peru to study hotel management in Las Vegas, and worked his way through school as a baker’s apprentice. Upon completing his degree, the newly minted graduate couldn’t find a job as a casino manager—so on a whim, Pereira replied to an ad seeking an artisanal baker for the famous Caesar’s Palace hotel and casino. The executive pastry chef couldn’t find any qualified candidates, so he took a chance on Pereira and enrolled the novice in an intensive baking course at the San Francisco Baking Institute.

Pereira went on to become Caesar’s top baker, and in 1999, he opened his very own business, called Bon Breads. Today, Bon Breads supplies Las Vegas’s top casinos and restaurants (including Wolfgang Puck and Julian Serrano) with baguettes, rustic loaves, brioches, and other specialty breads.


Location: Milford, New Hampshire

In 2016, New Hampshire magazine’s readers voted Milford’s The Good Loaf as their favorite bread bakery. Fresh-baked daily offerings include oatmeal, pain de mie, cinnamon-raisin, and multigrain loaves, but if you’re looking for a bread that’s a crust above the rest, try one of The Good Loaf’s made-to-order items, like Chocolate Challah, Caramelized Onion and Sharp Cheddar Miche, and Sesame Semolina. These breads require extra prep, so make sure to order them at least four days in advance.


Location: Englewood, New Jersey

Dine at any number of New York City’s best restaurants, and you’ll likely be served bread made by Balthazar Bakery. The artisanal bakery opened in SoHo in 1997, next to a French bistro of the same name. Space became limited as Balthazar grew from a one-stop shop into a citywide powerhouse, so in 2000, the business moved its wholesale division to Englewood, New Jersey. (The restaurant remains in Manhattan, next to a small bakery.) Today, customers can swing by Balthazar’s New Jersey location and purchase their famous baguettes, croissants, and wheels of pain de seigle at an on-site retail store.


Location: Taos, New Mexico

Before opening Wild Leaven Bakery and Café in Taos in 2016, Andre Kempton studied his craft in Santa Fe with Willem Malten, a Dutch master baker whose now-closed Cloud Cliff Bakery & Café "pioneered artisan baking in New Mexico," according to Sunset magazine. Long ago, before World War II, Northern New Mexico produced more kinds of wheat than any other state. Hoping to bring wheat farming back to New Mexico, Malten used locally grown grains, raised by farmer co-operatives, to make his breads.

Not surprisingly, Kempton’s approach to baking resembles his mentor’s. At the Wild Leaven Bakery and Café, customers can purchase around a dozen types of bread, made from all-organic ingredients and mostly locally grown grains. Sandwiches, soups, and pizzas are also on the menu for patrons who feel like sitting down and enjoying a home-cooked meal.


Location: Schenectady, New York

When Salvatore and Carmella Perreca immigrated to America from Italy in 1913, they brought their passion for baking with them. A year after settling in Schenectady, New York, the couple opened up Perreca’s: a bakery serving up the same style of crusty Italian loaves they made in their home village outside Naples. Not much has changed in 100 years. Perreca’s is still owned by the same family, and their bread is still baked in the same coal-fired brick oven that was there when it opened. Customers can buy the baked goods straight from the source, or they can pop into Perreca’s cafe next door to enjoy some homemade paninis.


Location: Cary, North Carolina

La Farm via Facebook

Before opening La Farm in Cary, North Carolina, Lionel and Missy Vatinet did their homework. They spent years traveling the world and picked up grains of knowledge from the bakeries they visited along the way. In 1999, the launched a bakery of their own stateside. Today the shop sells 15 kinds of bread—not including their 20 seasonal varieties—that are made by hand, fermented for days, and baked in a European-style hearth oven.


Location: Bismarck, North Dakota

Jon Lee fulfilled his dream of opening a bakery in his hometown nearly two decades ago. The products at Bread Poets—like the Cheddar Cornbread or the Cherry Cream bread, made with dried Michigan cherries—are made from stone-ground grains and sold within 30 hours of baking. 


Location: Columbus, Ohio

German immigrants Wilhelm Resch and his Uncle Frank learned their way around an oven while working at a bakery in Columbus, Ohio. After overhearing the two employees conspiring to one day run a bakery of their own, their boss fired them outright. Unemployment turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the pair: It gave them the opportunity to open Resch’s Bakery in 1912. The shop, which sells homemade bread, bagels, pretzels, cakes, and doughnuts, remains a family business today.


Location: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Prairie Thunder Bakery offers all the classics: Baguettes, ciabattas, and sourdoughs, to name a few. It also sells specialty flavored loaves like Roasted Potatoes, Caramelized Onion Ciabatta, and Jalapeño and Habañero Hummus. The breads can be purchased from the downtown Oklahoma shop or found at restaurants and retailers throughout the city.


Location: Portland, Oregon

Artisan baked goods aren’t difficult to come by in Oregon, but the fare at Ken’s makes an impression. Since Ken Forkish opened the shop in 2001, it’s grown into a Portland institution. In addition to its selection of fine breads, cookies, and cakes, Ken’s also serves a full cafe menu of salads and sandwiches. And early on, the bakery was known for its Pizza Mondays, and the night became so popular that within five years, Ken decided to open a separate pizza shop on the other side of the Willamette River.


Location: Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania

A trip to Amish Country isn’t complete without sampling some Pennsylvania Dutch baked goods. Bird-in-Hand offers traditional staples like potato rolls, whoopie pies, and wet bottom shoo-fly pie. Many of the recipes are the same ones used by Annie Miller when she opened the bakery with her husband, Erwin, in 1972. Today their children and grandchildren keep the business running.


Location: Providence, Rhode Island

The key to turning out great products is patience. The bakers at Seven Stars Bakery subject their breads and pastries to a lengthy fermentation process. During hours or possibly days of rest, the dough develops a depth of flavor that’s impossible to rush. This level of craftsmanship is evident in everything from the simple white bread to the rosemary and thyme focaccia.


Location: James Island, South Carolina

Started by a French expat who couldn’t find a good baguette, this Lowcountry favorite began as a stand at the Charleston farmers' market and quickly upgraded to a standalone shop on nearby James Island. Customers come out for the signature baguette, made the old-fashioned way, as well as the brioche, sourdough, and other breads. The café serves up breakfast and lunch fare, including their Recovery Baguette—a sandwich made with eggs, ham, bacon, cheddar, lettuce, and tomato.


Location: Sioux Falls, South Dakota

In 2007, New York City baker Kristine Moberg and husband Mitch Jackson, both South Dakota natives, returned home to start their own bakery. Ten years later, Queen City Bakery has become a local favorite where customers file in each day for scratch-made muffins, croissants, quiches, and bourbon pecan bars. The shop is best known for Moberg’s specialty: cakes, including a Lemon Polka Dot, Chocolate Espresso, and a shout-out to her old neighborhood, a Brooklyn Blackout.


Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

Wild Love’s hand tarts—homemade Pop-Tarts in flavors like apple pecan and apricot raspberry—are worth the trip on their own. There’s much more, of course, including pear and almond galettes, fudgy brownies, and a variety of croissants. Customers have lots of love for Wild Love’s scratch-made "monster biscuits," too, which tend to sell out quickly. Get there early and score a monster biscuit topped with locally sourced eggs and sausage.


Location: West, Texas

Texas is crazy for kolaches, the fruit and meat-filled pastries introduced by the state’s Czech immigrants beginning in the late 19th century. And there’s arguably no better place to get them than this otherwise unassuming gas station and bake shop situated off Interstate 35. In addition to kolaches made with sausage, pepperoni, pulled pork, and other fillings, Czech Stop carries killer cream cheese brownies and pies. And it’s stayed open continuously for more than 30 years—even during a massive nearby fertilizer plant fire in 2013.


Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

Gourmandise excels as both a bake shop and fine dining destination. Breakfast brings out top-notch pastries like the bacon, cheese, and tomato croissant, while lunch offers salads and sandwiches made using some of Gourmandise’s 15 house-made breads. Dinner patrons, meanwhile, can savor beef bourguignon or lasagna bolognese and swirl a glass of red.


Location: Burlington, Vermont

Started by two graduates of the New England Culinary Institute, Mirabelles is known for its scratch-made biscuits and popovers, as well as its solid breakfast fare. On cold Vermont mornings, a Rise & Shine sandwich made with eggs, bacon, microgreens, and spicy mayo promises a flavorful warm-up. Mirabelles is also an ace at cakes, from coconut-lime to its maple old-fashioned chocolate.


Location: Bristol, Virginia

Krispy Kreme, take note: Blackbird runs the doughnut game in southwest Virginia, with more than 2000 of the homemade treats sold every morning. Started by a former middle school teacher, the shop also offers a variety of pastries, cupcakes, tarts, and homemade bars. Cakes include everything from German chocolate to key lime to a "hummingbird" variety made with bananas, pecans, and caramel sauce.


Location: Seattle, Washington

If you've ever wanted to taste a baguette or a macaron made by a world champion baker, this is your chance. Owner William Leamon led the winning U.S. team at the World Cup of Baking back in 2005, then brought his talents back to Seattle. Bakery Nouveau offers a variety of breads and baguettes, but what draws the shop’s notoriously long lines every morning are sweet treats like twice-baked almond croissants, pear Danishes, and kugelhopfs (a light cake baked in rum butter, then rolled in cinnamon and sugar).


Location: South Charleston, West Virginia

Spring Hill turns out top-notch butter bread and French bread, along with pan rolls and Parker House rolls. Its specialty, though, is hot dogs—but not the kind you’re familiar with. These are stretched-out doughnuts that get filled with cream and dusted on top with powdered sugar. You can also get chocolate sauce on top, naturally. True to its name, the pastry shop also offers petit fours, napoleons, and cherry tarts, along with an assortment of pies, cakes, and cookies.


Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This Milwaukee establishment has gotten a new look and new owners since its namesake founded the shop in 1947. But it’s still turning out traditional favorites like Italian loaves, dinner rolls, brat rolls (this being Wisconsin, of course) and handmade breadsticks. There are plenty of sweet treats, as well, including amaretti, chocolate biscotti, spumoni, and other authentic Italian cookies.


Location: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

The bread artists at Persephone use locally sourced wild yeasts to slowly ferment their dough before baking it in a stone hearth. The result is deeply flavorful baguettes, whole wheat, rye, and multigrain loaves. Persephone also carries pastries, tarts, and cookies, and recently began serving high tea every afternoon at 4 p.m.

By Michele Debczak, Kirstin Fawcett, Shaunacy Ferro, Kate Horowitz, Jake Rossen, and Jeff Wells.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.