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Five Other Thanksgiving Holidays

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As much as we appreciate the Pilgrims' contribution to our holiday calendar, they are far from the first to set aside a holiday to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. Here are some other thanks-giving holidays from around the world.

Ch'usok

Held in September or October (October 3rd in 2009), Ch'usok is the Korean harvest and thanksgiving festival. The holiday starts with pilgrimages to the graves of one's ancestors, to give thanks and sacrifices of food. Families feasts feature sweet rice cakes and other traditional foods. These are followed by public celebrations with games and dancing. The circle dance, or Ganggangsuwollae, is performed by women. The legend behind the Ganggangsuwollae is the story of how, in 1592, Korean women dressed as men and danced in a circle to confuse Japanese invaders into thinking the Korean force was much larger than it actually was.

Thai Pongal

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Thai Pongal is a Tamil holiday celebrated in southern India, Sri Lanka, and among Tamil populations all over the world, no matter what religion they follow. The harvest festival usually takes place from January 12th to the 15th, or a period at the end of the month of Maargazhi and the beginning of the month of Thai on the Tamil calendar. It is a time to thank the sun and the rain for a bountiful harvest. Farm animals are also honored. The word pongal means "to boil over". During the second day of Thai Pongal, celebrants boil rice, milk, and sugar together in a new clay pot. When the recipes boils out of the pot, everyone shouts "Ponggalo Ponggal!" to usher in prosperity. One the third day of Pongal, cows and bulls are decorated, paraded, and treated to special snacks. (image credit: HumanityAshore by Dushiyanthini K)

Yam Festival

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The Yam Festival is celebrated in Ghana and Nigeria to give thanks to the spirits of the earth and sky for the yam harvest. Yams are the earliest crop ready for harvest, followed by corn, okra, beans, and cassava. The holiday is held at the end of the rainy season when the yams are ripe, usually in August or September. In Ghana, the holiday is also called Homowo (To Hoot at Hunger). Families prepare yams and other dishes for a community feast, and young people parade behind a boy chosen to carry the best yams. In Nigeria, the celebration begins with prayers of thanks and sacrifices of food to one's ancestors, and continues with public wrestling matches, as well as music, dancing, and feasting. (image credit: oneVillage Initiative)

Thanksgiving in Canada

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The first Thanksgiving holiday celebrated by Canadian settlers was in 1578, when explorer Martin Frobisher held a ceremony and feast to give thanks to God for a successful journey to Newfoundland and Labrador. This predated the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving holiday by 43 years. Thanksgiving holidays were held sporadically in Canada until 1879, after which it became an annual event. Thanksgiving in Canada is now held on the second Monday in October. As it forms a three-day weekend, family feasts are held on any of the three days. (Image credit: mathoov)

Succoth

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Succoth, or Feast of the Tabernacles, is a seven-day Jewish harvest holiday which begins on the fifth day after Yom Kippur. The word succoth, or succah, means booth or hut, which recalls the makeshift shelters used by the Hebrews as they fled Egypt. A family or synagogue might build a succah to use during Succoth. Othodox Jews spend the entire seven days in the succah. Men also go into the temple to give thanks and pray for a bountiful harvest. (Image credit: maxnathans)

There are many other harvest holidays all around the world. Some are religious and some are completely secular whether they involve gratitude or not. But we all love to get together with friends and family to eat while there is plenty of food!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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