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The World’s 8 Weirdest National Holidays

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Whether it means a day off or just an excuse to celebrate, Americans love holidays, even preposterous ones such as National Miniature Golf Day, but we’re not the only ones. The world is full of weird holidays and I, for one, am eager to join in the celebration. If we unify the Earth, maybe we can have a worldwide holiday every day!

Day of The Sea

Image courtesy of szeke's Flickr stream.

While it is fairly common for countries to remember an important military event through the commemoration of a national holiday, few battles are remembered in such a strange way as the Bolivian loss of the Port of Calama to Chilean forces. On March 23, the land-locked country remembers the loss of its last ocean-front property by marching in parades (as seen above) and solemnly listening to recordings of sea gulls and ship’s horns.

Korean Alphabet Day(s)

As a writer, I’m pretty fond of the alphabet, but I’m still not ready to start a holiday in its honor. If I was a Korean writer, though, I would already have a day to celebrate. On October 9, the South Koreans celebrate Hangul Day and on January 15, the South Koreans observe Chosen gul Day, but both holidays are intended to celebrate the creation of the Korean Alphabet.


Image courtesy of minwoo's Flickr stream.

National Punctuation Day

If you are upset about the lack of a national holiday to celebrate your alphabet of choice, you can always observe America’s National Punctuation Day on September 24 instead. The holiday’s website urges you to celebrate this occasion by reading a newspaper and circling all the punctuation errors, noting store signs that use incorrect punctuation and purchasing a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. Having fun yet? Well, maybe you can try writing a letter to a friend with correct punctuation to reflect on another year of wonderful grammar.


Image courtesy of Magic Madzik's Flickr stream.

National Weatherperson’s Day


Image courtesy of solidether's Flickr stream.

Weather announcers generally have impeccable speech, so it is only fitting that these well-spoken prophets of meteorology are given their own day of celebration. February 5 marks the 1774 birth of John Jeffries, one of America’s first weather observers. So how should you celebrate National Weather Person’s Day? Start off by checking into the National Weather Service in the morning and then plan your day accordingly. At the end of the day, curse or praise the weather person for their accuracies or inaccuracies and how they affected your day.

Bermuda Day

When you live on a tropical island, weather reports may not be quite as integral in your daily routine, but you still need to plan when it is or is not acceptable to wear shorts to business meetings. Bermuda celebrates this important mark on the calendar with the May 24 holiday, “Bermuda Day,” which marks the first day residents consider it acceptable to swim in the ocean, to release their boats on the water and to wear Bermuda shorts as business attire… and you thought Casual Friday was exciting.


Image courtesy of Spamily's Flickr stream.

Blessed Rain Day


Image courtesy of jmhullot's Flickr stream.

Of course, if you live in a landlocked country that is frequently ravaged by monsoons, then the end of monsoon season is almost certainly cause for celebration. That is why the people of Bhutan celebrate Blessed Rain Day every year by taking an outdoor bath in the mythically purified natural waters around them. Astrologers in service of the country’s chief abbot determine exactly what hour these baths are considered to be most sanctifying, but those that cannot bathe during this time tend to do so in the morning before sunrise instead. Because the date is determined by the Tibetan Lunar Calendar, the date varies, but it generally occurs between September 20 and 25 of the Gregorian Calendar.

Melon Day

How do you celebrate the creation of a popular crossbreed of muskmelons? If you live in Turkmenistan, you celebrate Turkmenbashi melons and muskmelons in general with a full day of festivities honoring the national holiday, which takes place every August 12. The president of the country has even reflected how important the holiday is to his people, noting that "since ancient times Turkmenistan has been considered the homeland of the best melons in the world."

Image courtesy of narumi-lock's Flickr stream.

Picnic Day

If you’re looking for a good day to enjoy a nice thick slice of Turkmenbashi melon, why not take a slice to Northern Australia on the first Monday of August, where you can celebrate Picnic Day. The day originated as a sort of labor day, allowing workers of Darwin's railway to go to Adelaide River for a picnic, but it is now a full three-day weekend of festivities and relaxation for the area. Even today, there is still a massive picnic held beside the Adelaide River every year in a traditional celebration of the holiday.


Image courtesy of Norma Desmond's Flickr stream.

Obama Day

While America is still widely divided on their opinions of Obama, he is a national hero in Kenya; so much so that they created a national holiday to celebrate his victory at the polls. Every November 6 since 2008, Kenyans have celebrated the first-generation American through parties and other forms of celebration. If you’re looking for a more local celebration of the president, apparently Perry County, Alabama has followed suit, declaring the second Monday of every November to be Obama Day, although I somehow doubt the festivities are as major as they are in Kenya.


Image courtesy of Zoriah's Flickr stream.

What’s the weirdest holiday you’ve ever celebrated and how did you observe the date?

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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