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17 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in April

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Calendar image via Shutterstock

With April Fools' Day, Passover, and Easter, there are a few mainstream holidays to observe in April. Here are a few less-traditional opportunities to celebrate.

April 4: National Tell-A-Lie Day
Honesty is generally the best policy, as George Washington would have learned if that cherry tree story actually happened. But today you have carte blanche to fib your heart out.

April 5: Read a Road Map Day
There was a time not so long ago when we had to consult large, folded pieces of paper to figure out directions from point A to point B. Thanks to GPS and Google Maps, this is now practically a holiday of antiquity. But you can’t use a Sharpie to draw a route on your smartphone – score one for the road map.

April 6: Sorry Charlie Day
This holiday is completely unrelated to the actor on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s actually a day to reflect upon the rejections you have experienced in life and realize the world kept spinning despite them. Sorry Charlie, maybe next time.

April 6: New Beers Eve

In 1933, the Cullen-Harrison Act allowed production of beer to resume in the United States, with the caveat beer remain no more than 3.2% alcohol by weight. On April 7, the act became law, and beer production began – thus marking the imminent end of Prohibition. This is the day to honor your God-given right to a refreshing cold one. Cheers.

Rob Byron / Shutterstock.com

April 7: International Pillow Fight Day
If you live in a big city, you may have already found yourself in the throes of this day by complete accident. On the first Saturday of April every year, pillow fighters convene in cities across the world for a massive throw down. This year, feathers will fly from Ann Arbor to Brazil to Switzerland. You can find out where one is happening nearest you on the official website – or how to start your own!

April 12: Cosmonautics Day
Remember the space race? Today is the anniversary of the first manned space flight ever. On April 12th, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into the great beyond and circled the Earth for almost two hours. It’s a national holiday in Russia, and a national grudge in the United States.

April 12: Drop Everything and Read Day
Also known as D.E.A.R. Day, this holiday encourages you to abandon all prior commitments for the comfort of a good book. It also coincides with the birthday of children’s book author Beverly Cleary, who is a spokesperson for the event. Though marketed towards children, celebration is open to everyone. However, if you happen to be holding heavy items when the clock strikes 12, perhaps you should think of the holiday as “Set Everything Down Gently, and Read” Day.

April 13: National Scrabble Day
Created by Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938, Scrabble did not become a national phenomenon until the 50’s. It has since inspired less mobility-impaired games like Bananagrams and Words With Friends. But to honor the holiday, use a classic board and show off your robust vocabulary.

April 14: National Reach as High as You Can Day
National Reach as High as You Can Day is really about grounding yourself in reality. Don’t reach for the stars if you can’t actually touch them—know your limitations. Just reach as high as you can, and tell yourself good job.

April 16: National Stress Awareness Day
Relax. The only extra activity you need to pencil in for this holiday is a break.

April 20: Lima Bean Respect Day
Much like Rodney Dangerfield, the Lima Bean doesn’t get any respect. Not today, though. Did you know Lima Beans are an excellent source of fiber? They also help balance your blood sugar and lower cholesterol. So give this white bean a break for being so bland, and try extolling its more admirable qualities for once.

Jelly beans image via Shutterstock

April 22: National Jelly Bean Day
Now this is a bean we can get behind any day. Try to save some of the bounty from your Easter basket. Don’t worry; you don’t have to eat the popcorn-flavored ones if you don’t want to.

April 23: Talk Like Shakespeare Day
We have of late, but wherefore we know not, lost all our mirth. What perfect day to get it back! Today, swap thou or thee for you, practice some iambic pentameter, and instruct all nearby females to “get thee to a nunnery!” Talk Like Shakespeare Day is the one time of year you can express yourself in rhyming couplets, wethinks thou oughtest useth the opportunity.

April 26: Hug an Australian Day
Created by Thomas and Ruth Roy of Wellcat.com, this holiday honors the folks from Down Under. Find an Aussie you love and respect, or really anyone from Oz, and show them how you feel with a big bear hug. Time spent wondering why Australians get preferential treatment to other countries is time that could be spent hugging more Australians.

April 27: Morse Code Day
Break out your best dots and dashes, it’s the birthday of Samuel Finley Breese Morse—co-inventor of the Morse Code. These days any Joe Schmoe can try his hand at transmitting lights, clicks, and tones to send a secret message. But this system of communication used to be a highly specialized field, requiring a license and a proclivity for spying on communists.

April 28: Eeyore’s Birthday
Even pessimistic stuffed donkeys have birthdays. You could throw a party, but why bother?

April 30: National Honesty Day
Remember National Tell-A-Lie Day? Today, do the opposite.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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