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Wedding Traditions from Around the World

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There is no denying that the American wedding is a formidable beast, boasting a bevy of quirky traditions that practically defy explanation. (Though you can watch us try by reading Monday's post about the bizarre origins of eight wedding customs.) But we'd be remiss to let you think that Anglo-Saxons have the monopoly on wacky wedding rituals. Thus, we present to you here a quick round up of matrimonial mores from cultures around the world.

Iran, Syria, Turkey and India

During a traditional wedding ceremony in these countries, the bride and groom jostle for a chance to step on each other's toes. The first to get off a solid stomp on their beloved's foot will supposedly be the "boss" in the marriage. Note to all Iranian, Syrian, Turkish and Indian grooms: Let the lady have this one. Gender subtext aside, there is a far more important issue at stake here—never mess with a woman's wedding shoes. One thoughtless smudge could mean the difference between lifelong happiness and a never-ending world of pain. Think before you step.

Switzerland

Swiss bridesmaids take part in the tradition of throwing colored handkerchiefs at the wedding guests. Any guest who catches one is then expected to give the bride and groom money. What, the sterling silver gravy boat and matching sorbet spoons I got you weren't enough? We American couples have a slightly more subtle way of getting guests to dole out straight cash—checking the "˜Gift Cards are Welcome' option on your wedding registry.

Korea

wedding-ducks.jpgGrooms in Korea will ask one of their successfully married buddies to carve them two small wooden ducks and bequeath them as a wedding gift, thus bringing good luck for him and his new bride. One has to wonder, though: how many of those little wooden suckers to you think get re-gifted to the next bride and groom who come a knockin'? "Hmm"¦ do I want to risk my own digits attempting to crudely carve a new pair of ducks, or do I just whip out the ones we've been "˜storing' under the bathroom sink since we got married? That's a toughie."

France

During the reception at some French weddings, guests will drop cake and bites of food from the wedding feast into a centrally located chamber pot and top it off with a generous pour from a few celebratory beverages. The resulting concoction is then to be imbibed by the bride and groom. We threw up a little just writing this.

Greece

"¢ A bride in the Greek countryside will celebrate her marriage by plopping a young boy on her lap and then ceremoniously placing an edible, baked biscuit ring around his neck. If shopping mall Santas are any indication, we have to assume that what happens next involves spontaneous crying and the painful extrication of candy cane from the bride's hair. Good news is that it will probably yield at least a few "Aww"-worthy photos.

"¢ After the wedding, the bride throws a ripe pomegranate at a door covered in honey. If seeds from the fruit stick to the door, it is believed to be a sign that the couple will be very fertile and be blessed with many children. Our question is this: upon completing this ceremonial act, would it be uncouth for the bride to then touch her finger to her nose and yell "Not it!"? Because we have to assume that a door covered in honey and pomegranate juice is no easy clean-up job. Though perhaps it would be good practice for the variety of sticky, gooey messes that will undoubtedly be made by the many future children they will apparently be having.

Russia

"¢ During the wedding reception, friends of the newlyweds will "kidnap" the bride and hold her for ransom. It is the duty of the groom to notice she is missing and then negotiate the payment for her safe return. While we assume that this is all done in jest, and the bride will likely never come to any real harm, we can't say the same for any groom who takes a little too long to notice her absence. God hath no wrath like a woman locked in captivity while wearing a corset bra.

"¢ On the second day of revelry for a Russian wedding, any guests, friends or family that are still around soaking up the fun will take part in the tradition of scattering money around a room. Once the floor is covered in cash, the bride is instructed to grab a broom and get to work sweeping it up. Upon scooping up the last of the spare change, the bride counts up her haul and then exclaims, "Oh come on people. We paid for a frickin' five-hour open bar. Pony up!"

Jenn Thompson is a freelance writer for publications including Charlotte Magazine, Weddings Unveiled, and The Atlantan. Superstar researcher Kathleen Pierce helped dig up these traditions.

Yesterday: weird wedding laws still on the books. Monday: bizarre origins of wedding traditions. Next Week: a celebrity wedding quiz.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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