CLOSE
Original image
Getty Images

15 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in November

Original image
Getty Images

Turkey day may be the main event in the second-to-last month of the year, but there are plenty of unusual holidays to fill your November days with celebration.

1. November 2nd: National Plan Your Epitaph Day


Whether you’re morbid or just really on top of planning ahead, take the day to decide which of your legacies you want set in stone. No pressure, but some claim that a “forgettable gravestone is a fate worse than death.”

2. November 3rd: Sadie Hawkins Day (the first Saturday in November)

The woman asking the man to a dance? How novel! Apparently it was quite novel back in the late 1930s, when Sadie Hawkins Day first appeared in the popular comic strip Li’l Abner. Worried that his homely daughter Sadie might never find a beau, Hekzebiah Hawkins organized a race in which his daughter would chase all the unmarried men in town to the finish line. If she caught one, he was legally obligated to wed her. The holiday became an annual event in the comic strip, and evolved into a real life event as well—with more dancing and less capturing. These days, Sadie Hawkins Day generally occurs on the first Saturday of November.

3. November 4th: King Tut Day


Getty Images

No, this day does not commemorate the great Egyptian king’s birthday. On this day in 1922, British archeologist Howard Carter and his crew discovered the entrance to King Tut’s tomb. This monumental discovery was one of the greatest archaeological achievements of the 20th century, and remains a huge attraction well into the 21st. The least we can do is take a day to honor it. History for the win!

4. November 5th: Guy Fawkes Day

Let anarchy and chaos reign today, although if you aren’t in England, you may get a lot of strange looks. The eponymous man behind the infamous “Gunpowder Plot” planned to blow up Britain’s Parliament in 1605, spawning annual bonfire celebrations, effigies, and creepy masks for centuries to come. It was Parliament that declared November 5th as a day of celebration to commemorate their foiling of Fawkes and company's plot, but it's Fawkes' mischievous spirit that pervades the festivities.

5. November 6th: National Saxophone Day

Brass on the outside, woodwind on the inside, the saxophone has created sweet, sweet baby-making jams for more than 150 years. Invented in 1846 by Belgian instrument-maker Adolphe Sax, the saxophone has since become a staple of both modern jazz and classical compositions.

6. November 7th: International Tongue Twister Day

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Whether you’re in unique New York or selling seashells by the seashore, show off your impressive command of diction today. Or if you’re really in the mood for a challenge, try mastering a few tongue twisters not in your native tongue.

7. November 13th: World Kindness Day

Founded in 1998 by an organization called the World Kindness Movement, this international holiday encourages everyone to look deep into their hearts past religion, race, and other differences to do something nice for their neighbors and/or humankind.

8. November 15th: Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day


Getty Images
Or as we like to call it, “Discover the science project you didn’t know you had growing in your refrigerator Day.”

9. November 18th: Use Less Stuff Day

Although the advertising industry works terribly hard to convince us that we never quite have enough stuff, many of us probably use way more stuff than we need. Take the day to reflect on exactly which kinds of stuff are excessive in your day-to-day life, and how you might reduce using said stuff. Or at least clear room for all the new stuff you’ll be getting soon for the holidays.

10. November 19th: World Toilet Day

A holiday devoted to the John, the Pot, the Latrine, the Porcelain God? Sounds like the brainchild of a group of 5th graders. In fact, it’s an international event dedicated to destigmatizing toilets and address the challenges of global sanitation. Created in 2001, the official website points out that billions of people in the world do not have proper access to toilets, but also that in addition to being vital to life, toilets can be “fun and sexy.” (Their words, not ours.)

11. November 19th: International Men’s Day

You may be hard-pressed to find anyone who believes men are internationally underrepresented, but someone still deemed the male gender worthy of a worldwide holiday. The theme of this year’s men’s day is health, more specifically “Helping Men and Boys Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier Lives." We can’t argue with that!

12. November 22nd: National Start Your Own Country Day

If you’re over the pumpkin pie and family cheer, here’s a fun alternative to Thanksgiving. The apparent product of the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, National Start Your Own Country Day salutes those plucky—albeit potentially treasonous and/or imperialist—individuals who believe so strongly in self-determination that they might one day form their own nation-state.

13. November 23rd:  National Day of Listening

Sponsored by oral history nonprofit StoryCorps, this year’s National Day of Listening honors teachers. The organization has asked everyone wanting to participate to take a few minutes to thank a teacher (or two). Other ways to commemorate National Day of Listening is by recording interviews in veteran’s hospitals, senior centers, homeless shelters, and other community centers.

14. November 28th: Red Planet Day

The fourth planet from the sun, and home to a future dystopian civilization according to Total Recall, gets its own day of honor in November. And what a year to celebrate, after NASA’s successful landing of the rover on Mars this past August! Plot out your dream Mars colony, wear all red, or perhaps read stories of the Roman God of War—whatever Red Planet activity suits your fancy!

15. November 29th: National Square Dance Day

Despite its close association with cowboys and honky tonk bars, the square dance actually originated in Europe in the 17th century. However, the United States has since taken over its cultural reins, so much so that 19 states have declared it their official dance. If you have yet to try this folk dance, take your partner by the hand and swing him/her down to the nearest hootenanny.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES