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20 Offbeat Holidays and Anniversaries to Celebrate in March

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This year presents a month of March packed to the gills with traditional holidays: St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, Passover: Night Two. Luckily our gills have extra room for all the unusual holidays and memorable anniversaries March has to offer as well.

1. March 1: National Peanut Butter Lovers Day


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If you love peanut butter, today is the day to proudly polish off your PB-based sandwich of choice. Reflect on all of the amazing qualities of peanut butter, from its delicious taste to its fantastic gum-removing capabilities. If that’s not enough, there’s even a year-round website for lovers of the legume-based spread.

2. March 1: 52nd Anniversary of the Peace Corps


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A volunteer army intended to combat the evils of Cold War communism with kindness, the Peace Corps took its first steps when President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order on this day in 1961. At the time he was only requesting a trial mission, but the Peace Corps has since become a worldwide humanitarian institution.

3. March 2: National Old Stuff Day

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Sorry hoarders, this holiday does not actually honor the person with the most (old) stuff. Rather, National Old Stuff Day encourages its observers to take a moment to recognize the same old stuff you do every day, and think about how you can break out of these stale routines. So seize the day, because tomorrow may just be more of the same old, same old.

4. March 3: National Anthem Day


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By the dawn’s early light, we do believe the United States adopted The Star Spangled Banner as its national anthem on this very day. Francis Scott Key wrote the famous words in his 1814 poem “Defence of Fort McHenry,” which would later be set to a popular British standard tune. Although recognized over time by various American institutions, the song did not become the official anthem until Congress passed a resolution making it so in 1931.

5. March 4: Casimir Pulaski Day


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The name may sound familiar to fans of indie soft-rocker Sufjan Stevens, but Casimir Pulaski Day is in fact a real Illinois holiday. Observed on the first Monday in March, CPD honors Revolutionary – and Polish – officer Casimir Pulaski. He died in battle, never having become a citizen of the country for which he fought. In 2009, President Obama signed a joint resolution granting him posthumous citizenship 230 years later. (New York City also celebrates Pulaski, but they do it on October 11.)

6. March 5: Cinco de Marcho


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Last year, one of our readers tipped us off to a new holiday called Cinco de Marcho. The 12 Days of Cinco de Marcho commence on the fifth of March, followed with a rigorous training regimen by observers to prepare their livers for St. Patrick’s Day. For games and activities, check out the official site. For your inevitable 12-day-long hangover, aspirin or ibuprofen should help.

7. March 7: Alexander Graham Bell Day


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One hundred thirty-seven years ago to the day, American inventor Alexander Graham Bell received a patent for a little invention called “the telephone.” He was only 29 years old at the time. Instead of spending the day asking yourself what meaningful contribution you made to society before the age of 30, fill your heart with thankfulness because without Graham Bell there wouldn’t be text messages.

8. March 9: National Panic Day


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Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy enthusiasts may struggle to fully embrace this holiday, but this March 9th event encourages you to indulge all of your deepest fears and let loose 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.

9. March 12: National Alfred Hitchcock Day


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

10. March 12: Katie Fisher Day

Started this year by comedian Matt Fisher in memory of his sister Katie, Katie Fisher Day asks observers to select a person they love, bake cookies, and mail said cookies to said loved one. Sweet message, sweet reward. We're really hoping this new offbeat holiday sticks around!

11. March 13: 232nd Anniversary of the Discovery of Uranus


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The most unfortunately named planet had the good fortune to be discovered by Sir William Herschel on this day in 1781. The world almost missed out on one of the best astronomical puns, as Herschel initially misreported his finding as a common comet. A few other earlier scientists are believed to have observed Uranus prior to Herschel’s discovery, but because he was the one who notified the Astronomer Royal, Herschel gets all the credit for Uranus. We hope you giggled as much reading this paragraph as we did writing it.

12. March 14: National Pi Day


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Don’t let the sound of the name fool you, 3/14 does not commemorate the sweet, baked circuitous treat. However, it is circuitous-related. It is the official day of the Greek letter symbolizing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, pi, also known as 3.14159265359…

13. March 15: The Ides of March


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Or, roughly, the 2057th anniversary of Julius Caesar’s assassination by Brutus & Co. One of the most famous Roman emperors received the ultimate backstabbing from his political contemporaries who felt he had gotten a little too big for his britches—or in his case, his toga. The word “ides” derives from the Latin word idus, a time word that indicates “middle of the month.” In the case of March, May, July, and October, this meant the 15th day. If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you know that it’s best to beware on this day.

14. March 16: Everything You Do Is Right Day


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Yes, that’s correct. We couldn’t agree more.

15. March 20: Extraterrestrial Abductions Day


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There’s no reason to believe that there will be an unusual proliferation of Unidentified Flying Objects on this out-of-this-world holiday. At least that’s what Big Brother wants you to believe…

16. March 22: 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ First Album


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Only 50 years ago did the Fab Four embark on their career that would arguably change music forever. Not necessarily their most famous album, Please Please Me still featured such classics as I Saw Her Standing There and Love Me Do. The album was so popular in the British Isles that it topped the charts for 30 consecutive weeks only to be bumped from the top spot by another Beatles album.

17. March 23: National Puppy Day


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You never need an excuse to spend all day long watching adorable young pups playing, but today it is your nationally mandated duty. If merely observing is not enough 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! We strongly advise first consulting your partner, parent, or roommate on that last option.

18. March 25: 150th Anniversary of the U.S. Medal of Honor


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Though created in 1861, the highest military honor the United States has to offer made its official debut in 1863 when the United States Department of War awarded it to Union Army soldier Jacob Parrott. Since then, more than 3400 Medals of Honor have been presented to individuals across all divisions of the military.

19. March 25: International Waffle Day


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A tradition that originated in Sweden, and should not be confused with America’s “National Waffle Day” in August, International Waffle Day basically encourages the consumption of all things bready and waffled. The world holiday came out of a religious Swedish holiday called Våffeldagen, which basically means “Our Lady’s Day” or at least so the Internet tells us. To celebrate this day, Swedish families would make waffles. One day, someone had the brilliant idea to divide into two holidays and conquer the world. We can all agree everyone won that day.

20. March 31: Eiffel Tower Day


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One of the world’s most famous “towers” was dedicated to the city of Paris on this day in 1889. Named for its designer, Gustav Eiffel, the structure was intended to commemorate the French Revolution. This Parisian landmark isn’t the only famous structure with Eiffel’s paw prints all over it. He also helped design the framework of New York’s own Statue of Liberty.

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technology
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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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