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6 Reasons Friday Was International Day of the Girl

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YouTube / 10x10act

Today is International Day of the Girl, a day set aside by the United Nations to consider the well-being of girls around the world. But why do we need a day devoted to girls? Read on for six concrete reasons.

1.  31 Million School-Age Girls Aren't In School

Around the world, tens of millions of girls are not in school. While girls are gradually catching up to boys in terms of educational attainment, the risks associated with not completing school are higher for girls than for boys. In more than two-thirds of countries, girls and boys have the same level of educational attainment...but that leaves one-third of the world's countries with a gender gap.

Initiatives like's Help Her Learn project, which helped 2.3 million people get an education last year alone, are working to close the gap. Also, the film Girl Rising documents stories of girls around the world, and the importance of education in their lives. Here's the trailer:

2.  Every Day, Almost 39,000 Girls Under the Age of 15 Become Child Brides

Globally, one in nine girls will be forced to marry before her 15th birthday. But if a girl completes secondary school, she's six times less likely to become a child bride. Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of organizations that are working to end child marriage; it has 293 member organizations in 53 countries.

There are also lots of projects around the world providing girls protection from, and alternatives to, underage marriage. One is the Kakenya Center for Excellence (KCE) in Kenya. It's a boarding school for girls from the Maasai community, which has some of the highest child marriage rates in the world. The KCE is using Catapult, a crowdfunding platform for women and girls, to fund their work. Here's a video explaining how Catapult works:

3.  Since 2000, the Number of Girls in Child Labor Has Fallen By 40%...But the Number is Still Not Zero

Worldwide, there are as many as 100 million girls (ages 5 to 17) involved in child labor. Over half of the girls involved in child labor are under the age of 11, and more than 25 million girls under the age of 17 work 28 or more hours per week.

While the child labor outlook is grim overall, there are a few bright spots. First, education not only lowers the risk that a girl will enter child labor, but it also reduces the chance that her children will enter child labor down the road. Secondly, certified Fair Trade goods are made without child labor — if you're buying goods from overseas, look for Fair Trade certification. Third, UNICEF is a leader in the fight against child labor; high schoolers can start a UNICEF High School Club to raise awareness about child labor. Finally, in 2010, 97 countries signed the Roadmap for Achieving the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour by 2016, agreeing to adopt policies to fight sex trafficking and child labor hiring, and to support NGOs that work on those issues.

4.  In Low-Income Countries, 30% of Girls Aged 15-24 Can't Read, Write, or Do Basic Math

The statistics on education are rough in low-income countries worldwide. However, girls in this age group have surpassed the literacy rate of their parents and grandparents, and they are rapidly catching up to boys: back in 1994, an astounding 47% of girls in low-income countries were illiterate.

Though there is much work left to be done, girls are on the right track; in fact, they look set to pass their male counterparts sooner than you might think. Since 1994, girls' literacy rates have improved by 17 percentage points, compared to boys at 10. The HOPE International Development Agency is improving literacy rates among children by supporting programs in many countries. HOPE's programs for literacy include primary school construction in Afghanistan, leadership training in Burundi, and education programs for street children.

A project by the Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) uses cellphones to help reduce illiteracy among Afghan women. Teachers send literacy questions and exercises to women and girls in the program via text messages. Students text the answers back. One girl who was involved in the "mobile literacy" program wrote:

"First I want to write that I am happy that I can read and write at the end of the class. This is a big success for me. Now I feel a big change came in my life during the last four months and I want to list these changes: Before four months I couldn’t read the literacy books, newspapers, and AIL magazines. Now I am able to read them. Before the mobile literacy class I didn’t know how to use a phone or how to write a message. Now I have self-confidence and I decided to go to the regular school next year. Before this class I didn’t have books and magazines in my house, and now I have three books and eleven magazines and I keep them in a small library. This shows that I am one of the eager students of this class. Now I am full of love for knowledge."

5.  In Low-Income & Developing Countries, 1 in 4 Girls Under Age 5 are Underweight

Malnutrition is still a serious problem, with an intriguing solution: education. In September, Reuters reported that if all mothers in developing countries completed secondary education, up to 12 million children wouldn't die from malnutrition. The National Family Health Survey conducted a study that found a direct connection between a mother's education and her children's risk of malnutrition. The connection here is twofold: first, educated mothers tend to fare better economically, reducing malnutrition risk in general; second, mothers with education (especially health education) are better able to identify signs of malnutrition and seek help.

Catapult is supporting a project in India run by the Real Medicine Foundation (RMF) which will work to address child malnutrition by bringing awareness campaigns, workshops, and training to 1,500 students. The project still needs funding to empower adolescent girls.

6. The International Day of the Girl Has Inspired 2,043 Events Worldwide (So Far!)

Image courtesy of 10x10

You can find events all over the world inspired by the International Day of the Girl. Here are just a few:

1. In Rwanda, the Akilah Institute for Women will host an entrepreneurship challenge — girls will present their business ideas in front of a panel of judges, who will select the student with the best business idea. Following the business part of the event, girls will participate in a Poetry Slam on the topic "Girl + Education = ?"

2. There will be screenings of the film Girl Rising on four continents. The film will be shown everywhere from Accra in Ghana to the Moshi region of Tanzania, the city of Pune in India, and Yangon in Myanmar. You can find a screening (or request one) using an interactive map.

3. Plan Zimbabwe will bring together girls from 100 schools to discuss the issue of child marriage. Here's a video from Plan International called Transform Her Future:

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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]