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20 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in February

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Valentine’s Day and President’s Day might grant you overpriced flowers and a random Monday off, but February has a bounty of other festivals, holidays, and anniversaries that can offer an offbeat added value to your month.

1. February 5: National Weatherman’s Day


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There’s a 60 percent chance of your local weatherman being at least 20 percent right about his job today, but there’s a 100 percent chance this holiday takes place on February 5. Whatever percent chance you’re convinced this should be a holiday, give a little thanks for the men and women who help you get dressed appropriately in the morning.

2. February 5th: National Pancake Day (as brought to you by IHOP)


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Forget December: This is the most wonderful time of the year. We’re talking about none other than IHOP’s annual National Pancake Day. This year, like the years before it, you can enjoy a free short stack of buttermilks and donate to charity. It’s a win-win. (Except not for your waistline.)

3. February 6: Lame Duck Day


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Though the holiday was created to celebrate the introduction of the 20th Amendment on February 6 of 1933, the amendment was actually ratified in January of that year. Lame Duck Day is a way to honor those who just left office after being rendered totally ineffective for a few months. In other words, it is appropriately lame.

4. February 7: 49th Anniversary of the Beatles' First Visit to the United States


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Beatlemania invaded our shores on this day in 1964, and has arguably never left.

5. February 8: Laugh and Get Rich Day


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If only it were that easy! Maybe it can be, why not? Given the healing properties of laughter, all you have to lose is your good health if you don't try.

6. February 9: National Read in the Bathtub Day


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Today is the day to treat yourself to a long, warm bath and a good book. But unless you're a fan of severe pruning, this might not be the day to finally finish Infinite Jest.

7. February 10: The First Day of Chinese New Year


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It’s the Year of the Snake, but fear not! Arguably the most important traditional Chinese holiday, the Chinese, or Lunar, New Year entails parades, fireworks, dumplings and familial togetherness. The serpentine year is supposed to bring steady progress, so make your first step towards positive returns by heading to your nearest Chinatown and joining in the festivities.

8. February 12: Darwin Day


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Charles Darwin was born 204 years ago today (side note: Abe Lincoln was born on exactly the same day). The International Darwin Day Foundation elects February 12 as a day to commemorate the man, science in general, and humanity.

9. February 14: Library Lovers Day


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Because sometimes a good book is more emotionally satisfying than a person.

10. February 15: Nirvana Day (also called Paranirvana Day)


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Buddhists believe that on this day the Buddha physically died, but also achieved complete Nirvana. Few can claim similar accomplishments in the field of Enlightenment, but most of us can appreciate the pursuit. Buddhist or not, give yourself a few deep breaths. Heck, you made it through Valentine’s Day alive. You’ve earned a little Nirvana.

11. February 17: National PTA Founders Day


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The specific day seems to vary from state to state, and even school district to school district—but February 17 is designated as a nationwide day to honor the founding of the National Parent Teacher Association, and the resulting legions of embarrassed kids countrywide.

12. February 17: Random Acts of Kindness Day


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In some parts of the world, Random Acts of Kindness Day is actually observed on September 1. But what’s the harm in two days of niceness? So as our magnanimous act for the day, we’re happy to grant February 17 equal footing in the kindness department.

13. February 17: 80th Anniversary of Newsweek Magazine

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When the presses were stopped last year, Newsweek moved exclusively into the digital world—all the more reason to honor its first issue, which dropped this day in 1933, and the many issues that followed.

14. February 21: 41st Anniversary of Nixon’s Historic Beijing Visit


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In 1972, a pre-disgrace President Richard Nixon arrived in Beijing to make a huge step in normalizing diplomatic relations with China. From the visit, the United States got the beginnings of a beautiful, though sometimes tempestuous, friendship with the Eastern power, and two pandas for the National Zoo.

15. February 22: National Margarita Day

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It should come as a surprise to no one that Jimmy Buffett is behind this one. If you have already given up on your Lenten promises, celebrate February 22 by appreciating as many Margaritas as you deem fit. If you happen to live near a Margaritaville drinking establishment, they will be providing specials all day.

16. February 22: Single Tasking Day


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The modern day rat race places a heavy emphasis on the ability to juggle multiple tasks at once. Our greatest weakness as a workforce is caring too much, right? Well, for just a day, drop all your multi-tasking impulses and devote your full attention to each bullet on your to-do list. Successful celebration may require you to turn off your smartphone.

17. February 23: World Sword Swallower’s Day

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President of Sword Swallowers International Dan Meyer proclaimed February 23, 2013, World Sword Swallower’s Day as a way to raise awareness about the art. On this day at 2:25 p.m., swallowers will “drop sword” at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! odditoriums around the world.

18. February 25: National Pistol Patent Day

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It was on this day in 1836 Samuel Colt patented his famous revolver in the United States. Europe got his patent first in 1835 on a different date, which is why this specific holi-date is relegated to a mere “national” status.

19. February 27: Congress Makes an Honest District out of DC

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On this day in 1801, Congress declared the District of Columbia officially under its jurisdiction with the Organic Act of 1801. However, it was not until the ratification of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 that the capital district received electoral votes.

20. February 28: National Public Sleeping Day

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In most parts of the United States, the weather might be less than optimal for observing this offbeat holiday, but to the brave and/or foolish among us: wear layers.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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