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8 Other Unusual Holidays

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Me hearties, today is the 14th annual international Talk Like a Pirate Day! So how aarrr yee all celebratin'? Let us know! Meanwhile, we thought we'd honor the crazy holiday by dropping a bunch of other strange ones on you. Because when it comes to holidays, there's no shortage in the bizarre category.

For instance, did you know that January 19th is Brew a Potion Day and July 25th is national Candles on a Cake Day? Yes, if there's an activity or pastime that people enjoy (or don't enjoy), odds are there's a holiday to honor it. Here are eight more you may not have heard of:

1. Thomas Crapper Day "“ January 27th

Also known as "toilet day," this holiday honors the man most people think of when they... think about toilet history. As you probably know, however, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet, he merely improved it. Of course, flush toilets had been used since the days of the Roman Empire, but the technology was lost after the fall of Rome. John Harrington of England is widely recognized as the inventor of the flush toilet, but a practical model wasn't patented until the late 1700s. Crapper popularized the siphon system for emptying the tanks. His company, Thomas Crapper & Co., received a royal warrant by Prince Edward (later Edward VII) to supply the plumbing the Prince's Norfolk estate. Crapper died on January 27th, 1910, and so the holiday falls on the anniversary of his death.

Holy crapper: Contrary to popular belief, the similarity between Crapper's name and the much older krape, or a stinky fish in German, is merely a coincidence.

How can I celebrate Thomas Crapper Day?

Given the unusual nature of the holiday, the G-rated way to celebrate it is by playing a game called Toilet Memory. One person drops 10 items in a toilet, which will either sink or float. The other players have five seconds to reach inside the bowl and see what's inside. Everyone then writes what he saw on a piece of paper. Whoever can remember all 10 items wins.

2. National Regifting Day "“ Thursday before Christmas

seinfeld_refigting_episode098Research has shown that 40 percent of office gifts are regifted. So it's fitting that National Regifting Day is held on the Thursday before Christmas, when most office parties take place. The state of Colorado has even declared December 18th the official date, while an informative Web site www.nationalregiftingday.com, has been created to give people answers on the regifiting dos and don'ts.

How can I celebrate National Regifting Day?

Have a regifting party. Each guest should bring and leave with one gift that was previously gifted. The only rule is that no first-time gifts are allowed. (Not that anyone would know, right?)

3. Middle Name Pride Day "“ First Friday in March

Celebrate Your Name Week (CYNM) was established in 1997 by the American onomatologist Jerry Hill. The weeklong celebration occurs during the first full week in March, and that Friday is reserved for Middle Name Pride Day. Hill's fascination with names goes back to the early days of his youth. As a child he heard of a similar-aged boy who was killed in his city. Much to Hill's surprise, the boy's name was also Jerry Hill "“ and so began a lifelong fascination with names. Middle Name Pride Day was established to allow people to feel good about their often-unused names.

What's in a name? Some documents will use the abbreviation NMN"(no middle name) or NMI (no middle initial) when the person does not have a middle name.

How can I celebrate Middle Name Day?

According to founder Jerry Hill, the best way to celebrate the holiday is by revealing your middle name to at least three people who don't already know it.

4. Newman's Day "“ April 24th**

paul-newman2Celebrated mostly by college students around the country, the idea on Newman's Day is to consume 24 beers in 24 hours. The holiday began in the mid-70s and is named for the late Academy Award winning actor, and noted beer drinker, Paul Newman, who is said to have made the following remark during a keynote speech at a college campus: "Twenty-four in a day, twenty-four beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not." (Most sources call the remark apocryphal.)

Depending on what campus you celebrate the holiday, Newman's Day can fall on
**April 24th (Princeton and Yale), January 26th (Bates College), March 30th (Kenyon College, Newman's alma mater).

In 2004, when Newman's Day began to receive national media attention, the actor said he opposed the "holiday." Think that stopped students from doing the 24/24?

Newman's Day Fun Fact: A spin-off of Newman's Day recently started at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Rather than beer, participants will spike Newman's Own salad dressing with liquor and drink it. Yum!

How can I celebrate Newman's Day?

Duh. Twenty-four beers in twenty-four hours! But here's the thing: no sleeping or vomiting, and all participants must also attend their normally scheduled classes.

5. Geek Pride Day "“ May 25th

Started in Spain in 2006, Geek Pride Day celebrates the real nerds in the world. By 2007, nearly all of Spain celebrated the holiday, which grew to include a nationwide nerd blood donation drive. In 2008, Geek Pride Day crossed the Atlantic. A "Geek Manifesto" was even created and included a list of basic rights. Some of the rights on the list include the right to be overweight, the right to have poor eyesight, and the right to be a virgin.

hitchhikers_guide_box_artMopping up: Geek Pride Day shares May 25th with Towel Day, which honors Douglas Adams, the late author of the popular science fiction novels, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. On Towel Day, Adams' fans carry around a towel to demonstrate their love of his books. Why towels? Well if you have to ask, then you haven't read the book: A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.

How can I celebrate Geek Pride Day?

According to a Spanish Web site dedicated to the holiday, all non-geeks are asked to either hug a geek or buy them a card with plenty of imbedded microelectronics.

6. Gotcha Day "“ September 15th

Started in 2005 by the Chicago Spectrum Press, Gotcha Day encourages adoptive families to commemorate their child's homecoming. The idea came about quite simply: The celebration of a child's birth is practiced in many cultures, but it's rare for an adoptive family to be present for their child's birth. Thus, Gotcha Day was, er, born. Although Gotcha Day is a widely celebrated event, its name has drawn some criticism by parents who believe it sounds awkward (as in "I gotcha orphan! You're mine now!"). Nevertheless, the Gotcha Day name has stuck, despite that Adoptive Families Magazine (who subscribes?) recently lobbied to rename Gotcha Day, Family Day or Adoption Day.

How can I celebrate Gotcha Day?

Most families celebrate Gotcha Day as one would a traditional birthday. They exchange presents and eat cake. There's one Gotcha Day tradition where the family stands in a circle and passes around a candle, all while sharing stories about the adopted child's importance in all of their lives.

7. Bloomsday "“ June 16th

joycePrimarily celebrated in Dublin, Bloomsday celebrates James Joyce's Ulysses, which, as you remember, unfolds (and folds back again) over the course of June 16, 1904.The day also marks the first time Joyce and his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, had their first date. The name Bloomsday, of course, is derived from Leopold Bloom, the novel's protagonist.

Art imitating art: A noted James Joyce fan, Director Richard Linklater references Ulysses in two of his films. In 1991's Slacker, a character reads an excerpt from the novel after convincing his friends to throw a typewriter in a river. Likewise, the events Linklater's Before Sunrise take place on June 16th.

How can I celebrate Bloomsday?

The majority of festivities take place in Dublin and involve readings and dramatizations of Ulysses. Pub crawls (Joyce was a heavy drinker) are also popular, even costume parties where participants dress in the appropriate Edwardian attire.

8. Savage Christmas "“ August 25th

lantern-press-old-faithful-inn-yellowstone-national-park-wyomingWe've all heard of Christmas in July, but Christmas in August (also known as "Savage Christmas") is a longstanding annual tradition in Yellowstone National Park. Legend has it that a freak blizzard hit visitors of the Old Faithful Inn in the early part of the 20th century. But rather than cry over the fact that they were snowed in, the stranded guests left the hotel and decided to celebrate Christmas outside. The term "Savage Christmas" comes from the employees of the Old Faithful Inn (savages, as they were called), who used to have a yearly gala each July 25th known as Savage Day. By 1959, Savage Day was moved to August 25th and became known as Savage Christmas, or Christmas in August.

Snow job? There's no official record that a blizzard ever occurred in Yellowstone National Park in the early part of the twentieth century. The most snow ever to be recorded at the park during the month of August was when 1.8 inches fell on August 18, 1932.

How can I celebrate Savage Christmas?

Get thee to Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park! Festivities include decorating Christmas trees, singing carols, and, surprise surprise, the exchange of presents.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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May 23, 2017
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