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The Quick 10: 10 Halloween Traditions

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Most of us are pretty familiar with carving pumpkins and trick-or-treating, but there are plenty of other Halloween traditions out there. Some of them are from way back when, and some are just from different parts of the world. Either way, maybe you'll find something new to add to your All Hallows Eve traditions.

1. Stingy Jack. Stingy Jack, or "Jack the Smith," is likely the story that gave us the tradition of carving pumpkins. The tale originates in Ireland, where Stingy Jack boozed his way through villages, begging and manipulating and being basically an all-around loser. The Devil heard of Jack's shenanigans and decided to put an end to it, but Jack tricked him a couple of times and eventually won the Devil's assurance that he would never take Jack to Hell. Jack eventually died, but because of his sinful earthly ways, he was denied entrance to Heaven. He tried to get into Hell instead, but of course, the Devil reminded him that this was impossible. Instead, he gave Jack an ember inside of a hollowed-out turnip and made him walk the earth forever, warning people of what could happen to them. Which leads us to another tradition"¦

2. Carving turnips and rutabagas. Here we carve pumpkins, of course, and it's catching on around the world. But before we carved pumpkins, the Irish were carving rutabagas, turnips and mangelwurzels thanks to our friend Stingy Jack. When the Irish came to the U.S., these vegetables weren't nearly as common, and so they adapted the tradition to pumpkins. If you want to try your hand at carving a turnip this year, there are instructions here. It's pretty much like carving a pumpkin, but smaller and less gooey.

postcard3. If you're dying to know who you're going to marry someday, here's an update on the apple stem twist we used to do as kids (or was that just me?). Unmarried women used to sit in a dark room on Halloween night and look into a mirror. Eventually, their husband's face would appear in it. If a skull appeared instead, the woman would surely die before she could ever get married.
4. Guising is what they call trick-or-treating in parts of Scotland and northern England. Unlike here, though, kids who go guising are expected to earn their treats with a song or a card trick, some jokes or a poem. Guising has only been confined to Halloween in relatively recent times "“ in 1815, one account said that "Gysarts" were allowed to come around every evening from Christmas to "Fasternse'en" (Shrove Tuesday).

5. Dumb Cake. This was an old tradition during Hop-tu-Naa, a Celtic festival you'd have to specifically go to the Isle of Man to celebrate. Kids trick-or-treat and carry turnip lanterns, but they also sing Hop-tu-Naa songs. And in the old days, they used to have their own fortune-telling traditions. On October 31, young women would bake Dumb Cake over the hearth, including some soot from the fire in with the ingredients. When it was ready, the cake was divided up and eaten in utter silence. Then each girl would apparently walk backward to bed and expect to see her husband-to-be in a dream. There was also a tradition of sweeping ash from the fire over the hearth. In the morning, a footprint in the ash that faced in toward the fireplace indicated a birth ahead. A footprint pointing toward the door meant that someone would die.

barmbrack6. Barmbrack is another custom from Ireland. It's a type of bread with raisins in it and can be served year "˜round, but at Halloween, certain objects are baked right into the bread: a pea, a stick, a coin, some cloth, and a ring. Each one carried significance, so if you got the piece with something in it, you would immediately know what your fortune was. The pea means you wouldn't be getting married in the next year and the ring, of course, meant that you would be. The stick meant an unhappy marriage, the cloth meant bad finances ahead, and the coin meant wealth was headed your way.

7. Coelcerth was actually observed on November 1, but that's close enough for my purposes. It was part of a tradition of Calan Gaeaf, the first day of winter in Wales. For coelcerth, a family would build a fire and write their names on stones surrounding it. If they woke up in the morning and found that a person's stone was missing, they knew that person would die in the next year. It seems to me that this would be the perfect opportunity to freak out your siblings"¦

8. Allantide is a Cornish (as in Cornwall, England) festival celebrated at the same time as Halloween. One the games commonly played worked like this: a cross, laid flat, was suspended from the ceiling, and a candle would be placed at each end. Then apples were hung from the underside of the cross. The game was for children to try to get the apples with their mouths "“ kind of like bobbing for apples in midair. If they were too slow, the candles dripped hot wax on their faces. Ummm"¦ fun?

9. Soul Cakes. In Britain, and in a similar tradition in Italy, children would go from door to door collecting "soul cakes" from neighbors. Each cake represented a soul, and every time a child ate a cake it was supposed to mean that they had freed someone from Purgatory. As a kid, I would have taken that super literally and would have been concerned about eating someone's soul.

Banana_slug_at_UCSC10. Floured Slugs. OK, one more weird wedding game for you. In 19th-century Ireland, women would sprinkle flour on a plate and then drop a slug on it. As the slug wriggled its way across the plate, it would leave a pattern in the flour that was supposed to show them what their husband was going to look like. I suppose it's kind of like reading tea leaves, but I keep picturing this moment where a women sees the love of her life for the first time from across the room, rushes over to him, takes his face in her hands and passionately cries, "I saw your face in the slug flour!"

Do you have any Halloween traditions? Do they involve baking supplies and gastropods? Do tell. I'd love to pick up a new tradition "“ our only tradition mostly involves watching scary movies for the entire month of October.
I'm out next week, so I'll "see" you guys in November "“ have a fun Halloween!

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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