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18 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in January

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It’s a New Year, which means 12 new months to observe some offbeat, obscure and just plain odd holidays. Like these!

January 7th: National Old Rock Day
Have you thanked a veteran rock today? Though no official creator has stepped forward, paleontologists must be behind this holiday honoring the fossils and rock formations that are as old as time.

January 9th: National Static Electricity Day

Crazy hair image via Shutterstock

Grab your balloons and sweaters! It’s time to build up your static charge and conduct some electrons. This is the perfect holiday to occur in the dead of winter, when the air is extra dry – the optimal conditions for storing up those negative charges that shock you at the most unexpected times.

January 10th: Peculiar People Day

This holiday commemorates the unicorn in all of us. Although there is no official origin story, National Whatever Day theorizes PPD may have spun off from an obscure Christian denomination in England known as “The Peculiar People.”

January 14th: National Dress Up Like Your Pet or Dress Up Your Pet Day
There are conflicting reports as to the specifics of this holiday, but January 14th is definitely either a day to make your beloved pet extra fancy or a day to dress up similarly. For the latter, it is unclear whether this means matching outfits or literally donning a full fur suit.

January 16th: National Nothing Day
A non-holiday created in 1972 by journalist Harold Pullman Coffin, National Nothing Day requires you to not observe, celebrate, honor or commemorate anything. Which might prove tricky this year as it coincides with Martin Luther King Day. However, for most Americans it is a work holiday, providing the perfect opportunity to at least do absolutely nothing.

January 17th: Kid Inventors Day
The Kid Inventors Day website attributes television, water skis, earmuffs and the Popsicle to the minds of brilliant minors. Technically the man who invented the first working television, Philo Farnsworth, applied for the patent at age 21 in 1927. But, he showed an early design for his TV to his teacher at age 14. The purpose of Kid Inventors Day is to celebrate and encourage the ingenuity of children — so the Farnsworth blueprint counts!

Fun Holiday Fact: the name of the holiday makes the acronym KID.

January 18th: Thesaurus Day
On this day in 1779, British lexicographer Peter Mark Roget was born. He is most famous for publishing The Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (aka “Roget’s Thesaurus”) in 1852. This holiday is a day to honor, celebrate, extol, laud, praise, revere or salute his contributions.

January 20th: Penguin Awareness Day
Not to be confused with World Penguin Day on April 25th, this holiday encourages you to cultivate even more knowledge of the Spheniscidae family. For example, there are between 17 and 20 species of penguins in the world. Or were you aware that contrary to popular belief, some penguin species are only monogamous during mating season – not for life? There’s so much awareness to go around!

January 22nd: National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day
If animals could talk, what would they say? We may never know the real answer, but January 22nd is a day to remember the thoughts and feelings of your domestic feline. Don’t worry if cat whispering isn’t your forte. Cat-oriented websites like Cat Channel offer some great icebreakers to get the conversation started. For example, “Are hairballs a common malady? What can my human do to prevent them?”

January 24th: Beer Can Appreciation Day
77 years ago to the day, the first beer was sold in cans. Since then the beer can has become a barbecue staple, a collector’s item and a maligned receptacle for some beer snobs. Today, pause before chugging, shotgunning or crushing and take a moment to reflect on what your beer can means to you.

January 25th: National Opposite Day
January 25th is definitely not national opposite day.

January 27th: Thomas Crapper Day
Often incorrectly credited with inventing the toilet, Thomas Crapper was a plumber and businessman who did, in fact, champion the modern wash closet and also invented the ballcock — that floating ball in the body of your toilet. His apropos surname was just a coincidence; the word “crap” already existed in the English language at the time of his birth.

January 28th: National Kazoo Day
Founded by Chaplin Willard Rahn of the Joyful Kazoo Band, National Kazoo Day celebrates 162 years of this plastic instrument. The organization behind the holiday, Kazoo America, hopes to one day make the kazoo “America’s official musical instrument.” They ask that you please remember the kazoo is definitely NOT related to the Vuvuzela.

January 30th: National Inane Answering Message Day
Officially, this holiday’s purpose was to assign a day for people to clean out old and pointless voicemails on their answering machines. However, some people have since interpreted it as a day to leave inane voicemails for others. With the proliferation of text messages and decline of landlines, take the opportunity to observe this holiday now before it becomes as obsolete as home answering machines!

For Next Year...

January 1st: First Foot Day
A Scottish New Year tradition, the first person to step into someone’s home is called the “first-footer” and is thought to represent good fortune entering the household—in the form of gifts including coal, whiskey, cash and/or cheese and bread. Sorry ladies and blond men, in order to be considered lucky the first-footer should always be a dark-haired man.

January 3rd: Fruitcake Toss Day
Although it may sound like a culinary Olympic event, Fruitcake Toss Day just marks the time when it is finally socially acceptable to trash all of the holiday fruitcakes you received. If you choose to turn the event into a throwing contest, make sure to have paper towels handy.

January 4th: World Hypnotism Day
According to the official website, World Hypnotism Day was created to educate the people of the world that hypnotism is more than just staring at a swinging gold watch whilst being told how sleepy you are getting. To further your learning, you can download audio clips from the site or search for events in your area.

January 4th: National Trivia Day
Here's how we celebrated this year: 119 Amazing Facts for National Trivia Day.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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]