CLOSE
Original image

8 Weird and Wonderful Local Festivals

Original image

Some years ago, I wrote about 8 Wacky Fall Festivals, which didn't even scratch the surface of the roster of odd municipal celebrations around the USA. At one time, most of these fairs and festivals were scheduled for harvest season, to show off the bounty and recognize the finest produce and livestock with ribbons. Now, to maximize participation and profits, festivals are held year-round somewhere or other. Let's look at eight festivals that strive to stand out from the rest.

1. Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw

Go ahead and make political jokes, you can be sure the festival participants do. The Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw sounds like an athletic event (and it is), but it's also a two-day festival coming up in September in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. The Cow Chip Throw itself is the headline event, in which adults, children, and teams compete separately. Cow chips are provided by the Meadow Muffin Committee. There's also the Tournament of Chips parade, a craft fair, concerts, and a 5K and 10K run. See more photos at the festival's Facebook page.

2. San Fermin in Nueva Orleans

San Fermin in Nueva Orleans happens the same weekend as the famous Running of the Bulls (Encierro) in Pamplona, Spain. In New Orleans, the festival celebrates in the same way, with one big difference: the "bulls" at this festival are roller derby athletes! The Big Easy Rollergirls and guests from other roller derby teams dress as bulls and chase festival patrons through the streets of NoLa.That's just one of many events at the annual festival.

3. Hatfield & McCoy Reunion Festival

The Hatfields and the McCoys feuded across the Tug River for generations. A hundred years after the famous fights, their descendants officially ended it with a party that became an annual festival. The Hatfield & McCoy Reunion Festival is held on one day in two states and three communities: Matewan and Williamson, West Virginia and Pikeville Kentucky. The centerpiece event is a marathon run that passes through historic sites in both states where feud events occurred. The festival also features bus tours of those historic sites, as well as concerts, crafts, food, and a gun show.

4. Duct Tape Festival

The Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival celebrate the tape that holds the world together. Duck Brand duct tape is produced in Avon, Ohio, and the company sponsors the festival on Fathers Day weekend every year. In addition to the usual concerts, parade, and carnival rides, the festival features duct tape fashions, sculptures, and a craft contest. The parade floats are even made of duct tape! Image by Amy Preneta; see more of her pictures of the Duct Tape festival.

5. West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off

The West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off & Autumn Harvest Festival is coming up September 24th in Marlinton, West Virginia. The festival is all in one day, yet has a full schedule of the usual festival events -plus the cook-off. The rules state:

1. All entries must have, as their main ingredient, any animal commonly found dead on the side of the road –groundhog, opossum, deer, rabbit, squirrel, snake, etc. Pigs, cows, chickens, horses, and goats are also in that category. However, it need not actually come off the side of the road (and most of the judges would prefer that it didn’t).

You can register up to the day of the event, but the entry fee is higher the longer you wait. Image from the Pocahontas Times.

6. Nalukataq

The Nalukataq is a festival to celebrate the completed whaling season, held each June in the northernmost U.S. city of all: Barrow, Alaska. In the Arctic Circle, a summer festival can go on 24 hours a day without artificial lighting! Whale meat and blubber are distributed to community members, and the festival continues with dancing, storytelling, feasting, and the traditional blanket toss. Other communities have their own, smaller Nalukataqs. Image by Wikipedia user Floyd Davidson.

7. Mike the Headless Chicken Days

We brought you the story of Mike, the Headless Chicken some time ago. Mike lives on in his namesake festival. Mike the Headless Chicken Days (now called just Mike's Festival) takes place every May in Fruita, Colorado. A lot of chicken dishes are served. There's also a car show, foot races, carnival rides, an egg toss, and eating contests featuring chicken wings and Peeps. Chick-fil-A is one of the major festival sponsors.

8. Annual Frozen Dead Guy Days

The Nederland, Colorado, Chamber of Commerce has been staging the Frozen Dead Guy Days annually for ten years. The name comes from the corpse of Bredo Morstoel, who died in 1989 and has been stored in dry ice in the area since 1993. The festival, which attracted 15,000 people this year, includes a coffin race, a parade of hearses, and more typical events as well. Nederland is looking for a buyer to take over the festival for next year. Image by Flickr user Erik Johnson.

See also: 8 Wacky Fall Festivals

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES