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12 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in March (and a Contest!)

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Here are some reasons to celebrate this month, plus the once-in-a-lifetime chance to create your own holiday.

March 1st: National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day

Peanut butter image via Shutterstock

If you love peanut butter, today is the day to shout it from a mountaintop – and then polish off your PB-based sandwich of choice. Take some time to reflect on all the amazing qualities of peanut butter, from its delicious taste to its fantastic gum-removable capabilities. There’s even a year-round website for lovers of the peanut-y spread.

March 2nd: National Old Stuff Day

Sorry hoarders, this holiday is not about celebrating how much old stuff you have.

Instead, National Old Stuff Day is about taking a moment to recognize the same old stuff you do every day, and think about how you can break old routines. Seize the day, because tomorrow’s just more of the same old, same old.

March 5th: Cinco de Marcho

One of our readers tipped up off to a newer holiday called Cinco de Marcho. March 5th marks the beginning of the 12 Days of Cinco de Marcho, in which observers undergo a training regimen to prepare their livers for St. Patrick’s Day. For games and activities, check out the official site. For your inevitable 12-day hangover, aspirin or ibuprofen should help.

March 6th: Dentist Day

Have you thanked your dentist lately? Dentists may seem like arbiters of medieval tortures, but they also had a lot to do with that beautiful, toothy grin you have now. Make March 6th the day you make that dental appointment you’ve been putting off for two years, the day you start flossing, or just make sure to show off your dentist’s handiwork more often.

March 7th: Alexander Graham Bell Day

On this day in 1876, inventor Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for his brand new invention called “the telephone.” For every text message you receive or send today, say a little thank you to AGB.

March 8th: National Nametag Day

March 4-10 is actually “Celebrate Your Name Week,” with different holidays for each day. But this one sounded like the most fun. The only rule is that you wear a “Hello my name is…” tag all day. Using your real name is optional.

March 9th: National Panic Day

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy enthusiasts may struggle with this holiday, but March 9th is to indulge all of your deepest fears and let loose on a rampage of unbridled hysteria. Observational practices may include, but are certainly not limited to, tearing out one’s hair, standing in public spaces and shrieking like a banshee, sobbing uncontrollably, or finally breaking ground on that underground bunker you have always dreamed of building.

March 12th: National Alfred Hitchcock Day

Did you know Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar for Best Director? Today is the day to regale your friends and family with your encyclopedic knowledge of Hitchcock trivia, or learn some new facts. Might we suggest a movie marathon for the evenings activity? If you dare…

March 14th: National Pi Day

Don’t let the sound of the name fool you, 3/14 is not a day celebrating the sweet, baked circuitous treat. It is the official day of the Greek letter symbolizing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Although both “pis” prominently feature the circle shape. Coincidence? We’re listening…

March 18th: Goddess of Fertility Day

You don’t have to wait for the vernal equinox to get a little ethereal. World cultures have provided us with a cornucopia of fertility goddesses to worship and honor on this day. The name of Siberian goddess Ajysyt literally means “birth giver,” and she is believed to nurture the soul of newborn babies. This is not just a day for the ladies; some goddesses like the Irish deity Macha exclusively tend to male virility.

March 23rd: National Puppy Day

Puppppies!!! As if you need an excuse to observe some adorable young pups playing, today it is your nationally mandated duty. But if watching is not enough celebration for you, go to the official website to vote for America’s Most Beautiful Puppy, consider donating to your local animal shelter, or just take the plunge and adopt one! It might be wise to first consult your partner, parent or roommate on that last option.

March 26th: National Make Up Your Own Holiday Day

It could be argued that every day on this list was once “national make up your own holiday day,” but March 26th is on hold for all future creations. So whatever nugget of inspiration or homage you have kept to yourself all this time, today provides the perfect platform for you to tell the world.

The National-Make-Up-Your-Own-Holiday-Day Contest!

We're going to celebrate this one this year. Leave a comment with your best idea for a March 26th holiday and we will celebrate it like crazy here on the site. Articles, quizzes, fake t-shirts, whatever it takes. You will be forever remembered in the history books for creating a holiday, plus you'll win three (3) mental_floss t-shirts. You have one week. Get excited.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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