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7 February Holidays

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February is a tough month. We're in the final stretch of winter, and spring seems like a long way off. Maybe that's why they made it the shortest month. But that wasn't enough! To cheer everyone up, they've crammed as many holidays into that short period of time as humanly possible.

1. Groundhog Day, February 2

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You gotta love a holiday centered around weather. You might think it's about the animal, but no, any animal would have done just as well. The real reason Groundhog Day is celebrated on February 2nd is that it is close to the midpoint of winter, halfway between the solstice and the equinox. Whether the groundhog sees his shadow or not, we still officially have six more weeks of winter. But hope springs eternal.

2. Superbowl Sunday, February 3

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The manliest celebration of the year is on Superbowl Sunday. Professional football teams have been whittled down to the best of the AFC and the NFC. This year, it's the New York Giants vs. the New England Patriots. A tradition since 1967, Superbowl Sunday was a January holiday til 2004, when season creep pushed it into February. To celebrate properly, you should buy a big screen TV, stock up on beer and meal-sized snacks, and invite your friends over to watch the game. Remember to analyze all the expensive TV ads as well as the game. Here are more tips on hosting a Superbowl party.

3. Mardi Gras, February 5

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Mardi Gras means "Fat Tuesday". The date is also called Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. It's the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting leading up to Easter. The purpose of Fat Tuesday is to use up all the temptations before the fast, whether alcohol, sugar, fatty foods, or wild carousing. The idea has expanded to an entire season of Carnival, since there's a lot of temptations out there.

4. Chinese New Year, February 7

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Chinese New Year is the beginning of the Spring Festival which runs 15 days and ends with the Lantern Festival. The date varies from year to year and depends on the lunar calendar. In Chinese astrology, each year is named after an animal in the zodiac, making a 12-year cycle. This February 7th is the beginning of The Year of the Rat. The New Year is a time of fresh beginnings, parades and fireworks, and symbols of good luck.

5. Valentines Day, February 14

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Originally the feast day of St. Valentine, this holiday may have been set at February 14th to replace Lupercalia, a Roman festival where lots were drawn to pair up men and women. Valentines Day has become the day when a woman's status at her workplace is set for the entire year according to the size of the delivery she receives from the florist. Or doesn't. But at least there are plenty of sweets.

6. President's Day, February 18

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Until 1968, we celebrated Lincoln's birthday on the 12th and Washington's birthday on the 22nd. The problem was that having two such holidays in the same month made employers leary of giving anyone either day off. As you need a day off to contemplate the awesomeness of our forefathers (and get to the white sale), Washington's birthday was moved to the third Monday in February. Lincoln's birthday remained on the 12th, but in popular use is combined with Washington's birthday to become Presidents Day and the newest three-day weekend. The effects were immediate: everyone forgot about Lincoln and Washington and made plans to get out of town.

7. Leap Day, February 29

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It's the date that only comes round once every four years, like the Olympics or the US presidential election. There are some exceptions, as you can see in the above flow chart. That in itself is reason enough for a holiday, isn't it? February 29th is the day that those who are celebrating birthdays get to make jokes about how they got their driver's liscence right after their fourth birthday, or are looking forward to retirement after their sweet 16th. Some communities celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day on February 29th. Although Al Capp, who invented the Sadie Hawkins tradition in his comic strip Li'l Abner placed it in the fall, there are those who think the opportunity for women to chase her own beau should be restricted to once every four years.

If that isn't enough for you, here's a longer list of special days in February. We do whatever we can to get through until spring.

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Food
Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
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iStock

You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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Pop Culture
The Strange Hidden Link Between Silent Hill and Kindergarten Cop
Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

by Ryan Lambie

At first glance, Kindergarten Cop and Silent Hill don't seem to have much in common—aside from both being products of the 1990s. At the beginning of the decade came Kindergarten Cop, the hit comedy directed by Ivan Reitman and starring larger-than-life action star Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the decade’s end came Silent Hill, Konami’s best-selling survival horror game that sent shivers down PlayStation owners’ spines.

As pop culture artifacts go, they’re as different as oil and water. Yet eagle-eyed players may have noticed a strange hidden link between the video game and the goofy family comedy.

In Silent Hill, you control Harry Mason, a father hunting for his daughter Cheryl in the eerily deserted town of the title. Needless to say, the things Mason uncovers are strange and very, very gruesome. Early on in the game, Harry stumbles on a school—Midwich Elementary School, to be precise—which might spark a hint of déjà vu as soon as you approach its stone steps. The building’s double doors and distinctive archway appear to have been taken directly from Kindergarten Cop’s Astoria Elementary School.

Could it be a coincidence?

Well, further clues can be found as you venture inside. As well as encountering creepy gray children and other horrors, you’ll notice that its walls are decorated with numerous posters. Some of those posters—including a particularly distinctive one with a dog on it—also decorated the halls of the school in Kindergarten Cop.

Do a bit more hunting, and you’ll eventually find a medicine cabinet clearly modeled on one glimpsed in the movie. Most creepily of all, you’ll even encounter a yellow school bus that looks remarkably similar to the one in the film (though this one has clearly seen better days).

Silent Hill's references to the movie are subtle—certainly subtle enough for them to pass the majority of players by—but far too numerous to be a coincidence. When word of the link between game and film began to emerge in 2012, some even joked that Konami’s Silent Hill was a sequel to Kindergarten Cop. So what’s really going on?

When Silent Hill was in early development back in 1996, director Keiichiro Toyama set out to make a game that was infused with influences from some of his favorite American films and TV shows. “What I am a fan of is occult stuff and UFO stories and so on; that and I had watched a lot of David Lynch films," he told Polygon in 2013. "So it was really a matter of me taking what was on my shelves and taking the more horror-oriented aspects of what I found.”

A scene from 'Silent Hill'
Divine Tokyoska, Flickr

In an interview with IGN much further back, in 2001, a member of Silent Hill’s staff also stated, “We draw our influences from all over—fiction, movies, manga, new and old.”

So while Kindergarten Cop is perhaps the most outlandish movie reference in Silent Hill, it’s by no means the only one. Cafe5to2, another prominent location in the game, is taken straight from Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.

Elsewhere, you might spot a newspaper headline which references The Silence Of The Lambs (“Bill Skins Fifth”). Look carefully, and you'll also find nods to such films as The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho, and 12 Monkeys.

Similarly, the town’s streets are all named after respected sci-fi and horror novelists, with Robert Bloch, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, and Richard Matheson among the most obvious. Oh, and Midwich, the name of the school? That’s taken from the classic 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, twice adapted for the screen as The Village Of The Damned in 1960 and 1995.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'Kindergarten Cop'
Universal Pictures

The reference to Kindergarten Cop could, therefore, have been a sly joke on the part of Silent Hill’s creators—because what could be stranger than modeling something in a horror game on a family-friendly comedy? But there could be an even more innocent explanation: that Kindergarten Cop spends so long inside an ordinary American school simply gave Toyama and his team plenty of material to reference when building their game.

Whatever the reasons, the Kindergarten Cop reference ranks highly among the most strange and unexpected film connections in the history of the video game medium. Incidentally, the original movie's exteriors used a real school, John Jacob Astor Elementary in Astoria, Oregon. According to a 1991 article in People Magazine, the school's 400 fourth grade students were paid $35 per day to appear in Kindergarten Cop as extras.

It’s worth pointing out that the school is far less scary a place than the video game location it unwittingly inspired, and to the best of our knowledge, doesn't have an undercover cop named John Kimble serving as a teacher there, either.

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