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15 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in August

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National Underwear Day/

At first glance, August might seem light on the holiday offerings. We dug a little deeper to find a healthy helping of celebrations to help you beat the heat.

1. August 1st: National Girlfriends Day

Rest easy, boyfriends of the world, this holiday has nothing to do with you. National Girlfriends Day honors the lady friends who are there for their lady friends. If you like gendered activities, today would be the perfect day to schedule mani-pedis with your best gal pals.

2. August 5th: International Beer Day

Back in 2007, a group of friends decided to internationally dedicate a day to “gather with friends and enjoy the deliciousness that is beer, celebrate the dedicated men and women who brew and serve our beer, and bring the world together under the united banner of beer.” And to that we say, cheers. Or salud! Or prost! Or gan bei! Well, you get the idea.

3. August 5th: National Underwear Day

Though we cannot prove it, we smell quite the collusion between International Beer Day and this fest of unmentionables. Whether coincidence or conspiracy, celebrating these two August 5th holidays does not have to be mutually exclusive. You may even get a free pair of undies out of it.

4. August 6th: National Fresh Breath Day

If ever there were a day to stage an intervention with your halitosis-afflicted friends, today’s the day. Or, give yourself an extra brush and a bonus swirl of mouthwash and say ah. Probably a good idea to lay off the onions and garlic for the day, too.

5. August 8th: National Dollar Day

On this day all the way back in 1786, the Continental Congress established a monetary system for the United States of America. Sure, there were some Greenbacks along the way, but in our lifetime most of us have been carrying around George Washington’s in our wallets. Today, you can honor the birth of cold hard USD with a few Georges, Andrews, and Abrahams. If you decide to invite Benjamin, give us a call!

6. August 9th: Book Lover’s Day

Granted, for most book lovers every day is a day to celebrate reading, but for the sake of celebration let’s open up the floor to all interpretations of what it means to be a “book lover.” Perhaps you just love the physical feel of a book, and have no interest in cracking one open. Or maybe, this day is meant to honor books in love with each other. Today is the day to exalt book lovers of all shapes, sizes, covers, and word counts.

7. August 10th: Lazy Day

And a lucky day because this year it falls on a Friday! Start the weekend early by doing positively nothing.

8. August 11th: Presidential Joke Day

On this day in 1984, during a sound check for a radio broadcast Ronald Reagan cracked the following joke:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Who knew the Gipper had such a dark sense of humor? He certainly didn’t know the mic was already recording, and the tape leaked. Since this little gaffe, August 11th has lived on as Presidential Joke Day.

9. August 13th: International Left-handers Day

For those world citizens who have found themselves in a right-handed-scissors-world, today the world honors your special gift. The other 364, we righties are still secretly jealous. If you’re in the UK on the 13th, the Left-handers Club sponsors members-only areas called “Lefty Zones." Okay fine, we’re jealous all 365 days.

10. August 18th: National Bad Poetry Day

Roses are red/ Violets are blue/ You probably saw this joke coming/ But we made it anyway.

11. August 19th: National Aviation Day

Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out the ultimate burn by declaring Orville Wright's birthday National Aviation Day. Why he chose to honor Orville over Wilbur in 1939 is a mystery to historians, but we think National Aviation Day is a great time to start preposterous rumors based on wild speculation. For example, Wilbur Wright was a figment of Orville’s imagination.

12. August 21st: National Senior Citizens Day

Now this is the holiday for which Reagan would have wanted to be remembered. On August 19th, 1988, a proclamation was made by the then-president that deemed August 21st as a national day to give older US citizens thanks and a heartfelt salute.

13. August 22nd: National Tooth Fairy Day

Because anyone who can make a dollar bill magically appear under your pillow deserves a day of feting.

14. August 24th: National Hug Your Boss Day

While it appears to have originated in the UK, the principles of this special day apply around the world. For one day of the year, set aside your frustrations and show your boss a little appreciation with a physical embrace. Please make sure to first check all company HR codes – thoroughly.

15. August 31st: National Trail Mix Day

Also known as National GORP Day. We love us a handy bag of “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” but let’s be honest – the addition of M&M’s are what make trail mix truly great.

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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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