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8 Upcoming September Festivals and Events

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Labor Day has come and gone, and the Coon Dog Graveyard Festival is over. But there are plenty of other things going on in the month of September, if you can get to them. Here are a few you might enjoy.

1. Great Outhouse Blowout

Photograph by Stephanie Mardis Weber.

The Penn's Store Great Outhouse Blowout and Race at Penn's Store in Gravel Switch, Kentucky will be September 14th. The event began as a dedication of the first outhouse at the store in 1992. The Outhouse 300 race draws entrants from all over the country. A racing outhouse must be a certain size and have a seat with a hole. Up to five people can push or pull the outhouse, but one person must be seated inside. The Outhouse Blowout also has musical performances, a car show, and an ugly legs contest (for men only).

2. Adirondack Balloon Festival

Photograph by Flickr user nick.cosimano.

The Adirondack Balloon Festival will happen September 19-22 in Glens Falls, New York. Thursday's events include the usual festival stuff: concerts, vendors, games, and fireworks. Then the festival moves to the Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport in Queensbury, New York for seriously big balloon launches each day (weather permitting).

3. Kentucky Bourbon Festival

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival will run September 17-22 in Bardstown, Kentucky. The premiere competition at the festival is the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay, in which a 500 pound barrel must be pushed with speed and accuracy. There are divisions for men, women, and teams. You'll also see barrel dancing during the race intermission. Other events include a historic tour, a ghost tour, the Bourbon tasting event, a hot-air balloon launch, a poker tournament, a scavenger hunt, and plenty of other events you won't find at "normal" festivals.

4. Great Gorilla Run

Photo credit: Getty Images.

London, England, is the site for the Great Gorilla Run. Every year since 2003, people dressed in gorilla suits run through the city, raising money to help protect the Mountain Gorilla. This year's run will be on Saturday, September 21st, celebrating its tenth year and over £1.9 million raised for central African charities.

5. Johnny Appleseed Festival

Photograph by Flickr user SomeHoosier.

The 39th annual Johnny Appleseed Festival will take place September 21-22 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The festival is to celebrate John Chapman, a missionary who introduced apple trees to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Chapman is buried in Fort Wayne. A large part of the festival is the living history area, with a military camp hosted by the 44th Indiana Civil War Historical Association, and a trappers and traders area, where festival volunteers reenact life in the 1840s. Craftsmen will be demonstrating their occupations, antiques will be displayed, and there will be plenty of apples to eat. In fact, all food vendors are required to prepare and serve food as it would have been made in the 19th century! That means no deep-fried bacon on a stick, but instead there will be caramel apples, chicken and dumplings, and delicious cider, among other treats.

6. The Aloha Festivals Floral Parade

The Aloha Festivals in Honolulu, Hawaii, have events scheduled through the month of September. The biggest of them, the Aloha Festivals Floral Parade, will be on September 28th, which should give you plenty of time to book a flight to Hawaii, but a hotel room might be hard to find: 100,000 people are expected to attend.

A colorful equestrian procession of female and male pā‘ū riders, extravagant floats with cascades of Hawaiian flowers, hula Hālau and marching bands will brighten Kalākaua Avenue from Ala Moana Park to Kapi‘iolani Park. This is a "must see" event! Free admission.

The Aloha Festivals were born in 1946 as a way of celebrating the culture of Hawaii.

7. Beef-a-Rama

Photo from Travel Wisconsin.

Minoqua, Wisconsin, hosts the annual Beef-a-Rama on September 27-28 this year. The festival started out as Fish-a-Rama in 1964, as a way to open the fishing season. It evolved from fish to beef to please the palates of festival attendees. Events include the Rump Roast Run (and the shorter Calf Mile), live music, a beer tent, a farmers market, a beef-eating contest, a parade, and a beef-roasting competition. There will be plenty to eat. Mostly beef!

8. The World Chicken Festival

The World Chicken Festival in London, Kentucky was named in honor of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was founded in the same county (but not the same town). This year's festival is scheduled for September 26-29. Fried chicken is served from the World's Largest Skillet, which is over ten feet in diameter and requires 300 gallons of cooking oil. It can fry 150 chickens at once! Pictured is the annual Colonel Sanders Lookalike Contest. Don't think you can enter that one at the last minute, but there are plenty of other competitions and games at the festival. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]