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17 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in July

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We’re having a heat wave ... of outstanding, offbeat July holidays! The big firework show may come at the beginning of the month, but there are plenty more celebrations to keep you feeling Yankee Doodle Dandy all the way to August.

1. July 1: National Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day

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In 1984, Ronald Reagan deemed July “National Ice Cream Month,” and the third Sunday of this month “National Ice Cream Day.” As great as the treat itself is, we’re big fans of those unusual flavor combinations that make you question the limitations of culinary science and marvel at their possibilities! Ben and Jerry might have the offbeat flavor market cornered for now, but to be safe you should probably head for your local ice creamery to “test” their strongest contenders.

2. July 2: World UFO Day

Keep your eyes on the sky at night on this day, because they are out there. According to the World UFO Day website, the celebration of all things unidentified, object, and airborne started officially in 2001. That said, most UFOlogoists believe the existence of intelligent beings from outer space dates much further back. If you’re feeling extra conspiratorial, holiday organizers implore you to use this day to “encourage governments to declassify their knowledge about sightings throughout the history.”

3. July 4: Sidewalk Egg Frying Day

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We’ve all heard the phrase “so hot outside you could fry an egg,” but today is the day we put that expression to the test. Though the origins of this climate-specific holiday are unknown, we imagine heat-inclined states were the earliest adopters. Oatman, Arizona has upped the ante with an annual solar-frying contest. Since you need daylight for this activity, it doesn't need to be mutually exclusive with Fourth of July fireworks! Everyone wins.

4. July 6: International Kissing Day

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Pucker up for some summer love! Formerly known as National Kissing Day in the United Kingdom, this holiday was invented to remind us all of the simple pleasure a sweet kiss can bring. It is also cited as a direct cause for National Mono Day.

5. July 8: International Town Criers Day

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Hear ye, hear ye! Before there was Twitter, CNN, or even a newspaper, every respectable town had a town crier who kept the good public abreast of all relevant comings and goings. Today, you have full permission to shout your appreciation from the rooftops—it’s how they wanted it.

6. July 10: Teddy Bear Picnic Day

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In the early 20th century, John Walter Bratton composed an instrumental song entitled “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” In the late 1980s, collectible items dealer Royal Selangor decided to turn that into a national holiday. He also had the idea to conveniently release toy boxes and collectible items in conjunction with said event. Regardless of capitalist motives, the day became a national holiday and remains popular throughout Europe, as far away as Australia, and among many reputable stuffed bear circles.

7. July 11: Slurpee Day

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This year the ubiquitous (at least along interstates) convenience store will celebrate its 87th birthday. In observance of the the eponymous date 7/11, the store will dole out free Slurpees. Freeloaders mark your calendars now, and be sure to set aside an extra 20 minutes of recovery time from the subsequent brain freeze.

8. July 11: World Population Day

In honor of the holiday this year, the United Nations Population Fund continues advocating its Universal Access to Reproductive Health initiative. After you’ve recovered from your aforementioned brain freeze, take one more moment to reflect on being a part of such a big whole.

9. July 13: National French Fries Day

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Or National Freedom Fries Day, depending on your politics. We can’t make any promises, but last year some McDonald’s restaurants gave away their signature deep-fried potato sticks in honor of this special day. Free or not, on this day treat yourself to a full basket of guilt-free, Frenched, and fried goodness!

10. July 14: National Nude Day

The day the Tobias Fünkes of the world fear most. Originating in New Zealand, this non-public holiday encourages everyone to publicly celebrate their all-natural form. Note: please be sure to familiarize yourself with current local legislation concerning public nudity, lest you find yourself observing “international delinquent day.”

11. July 14: Bastille Day

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Storm your local Bastille in honor of France’s 1789 victory. More than 50 U.S. cities host celebrations, so you have no excuse to not indulge in delicious French foods and more fireworks. If your city happens to have loose public nudity laws, you can celebrate the birth of French democracy in your birthday suit!

12. July 17: Yellow Pig Day

The figment of two mathematicians’ imaginations in the 1960s, the 17-eyelashed yellow pig was born from an intense study of the fascinating properties of the number 17. Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics has kept the yellow flame alive every year, with Yellow Pig Math Days and even a special conference held in 2006 (the 34th, or 17x2, summer of the program).

13. July 19: National Flitch Day

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A 15th century relic, a “flitch” referred to an amount of bacon offered to married couples by local monks who could prove a year’s worth of matrimonial bliss to a jury of their single peers. Thought to have originated in Dunmore, England, the modern-day flitch ceremony now takes place once every four years, but is still very much all about the bacon.

14. July 22: Doonerism Spay

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The birthday of Reverend William Archibald Spooner in 1844 London also marks the celebration of the famous slip of the tongue named after him. A spoonerism was originally the accidental switch of consonants or vowels, but has also since become a popular wordplay game.

15. July 26: National Talk in an Elevator Day

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We all do it. We look at our phone, at our feet, or at the fresh coffee stain on our shirts. Anything to avoid even making eye contact with our fellow elevator riders. Not today. Not on the last Friday in July. Throw out the social compact, and strike up a conversation with the nearest stranger while in a small space for a short period of time.

16. July 27: Bagpipe Appreciation Day

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Though bagpipes are perhaps most commonly linked to the Scottish, the largest producer in the world of this aerophone instrument is Pakistan. Just one of many fun facts you can toss out on Bagpipe Appreciation Day. You're welcome.

17. July 29: National Lasagna Day

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Catch up on some Garfield comics, head to an Italian restaurant, or grab some ricotta, pasta and Bolognese and whip one up yourself—there are many ways to honor National Lasagna Day. The only wrong way is to not honor it at all.

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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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