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11 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate In February

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Sure, Valentine's Day gets all the commercial airtime and drugstore aisle displays come February, but we've rounded up plenty of other quirky holidays to celebrate on the other 27 days.

1. February 7: Bubble Gum Day

Celebrated annually on the first Friday of February, Bubble Gum Day proclaims itself a "FUNdraising Holiday." The occasion, which was started in 2006 by children’s book author Ruth Spiro, allows school children to chew gum—chastisement free—in exchange for 50 cents, which then gets donated to a charity of the school's choice. Since its inception, participation has spread to include libraries, children's museums, and even senior centers.

2. February 8: Laugh and Get Rich Day

It's not clear if the laughter is intended to result in vast fiscal gains or if the two activities are merely suggested as befitting one another with no causal relationship implied.

3. February 9: Man Day

The Sunday before Valentine's Day has been officially reserved as a time for the neglected men of the world to finally get some recognition.

4. February 11: Pro Sports Wives Day

And in continuing the trend of honoring beleaguered subsets of the population comes Pro Sports Wives Day, for the women who support the men who get paid millions to play a game. (There does not appear to be a Pro Sports Husbands Day, for what that's worth.)

5. February 13: Get A Different Name Day

On the 14th, the sentiment "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is all about the rose. The day before, however, is all about the other name. This is the annual opportunity for people burdened with silly or undesirable names to insist that they are addressed in some more pleasing way and expect their friends and colleagues to do so.

6. February 13: Madly in Love with Me Day

February 13 is also a great day to celebrate everything, name and otherwise, that you don't hate about yourself.  Conspicuously placed on the calendar, this is a day that makes literal the idea that you must love yourself before you can love another.

7. February 18: Single-Tasking Day

A day to do one, and only one, thing at a time.

8. February 20: Hoodie-Hoo Day

This is one for those of you in the Northern Hemisphere. It's a low commitment holiday: All you have to do is go outside at exactly noon (local time) and yell "Hoodie-hoo." This, supposedly will chase off winter. And frankly, it's about time someone figured out how to do so.

9. February 22: World Sword Swallowers Day

While we're not saying practitioners of the ancient art shouldn't get their own holiday, it's not clear how this is any different from other days, when people who can swallow swords should do just that, and people who can't definitely should not.

10. February 23: Curling is Cool Day

Note: This isn't just Curling Day; this is Curling is Cool Day. This is not a day to make curling the punch line of jokes, but rather an opportunity to embrace the Olympic sport and find out what about it, other than the ice, is so cool.

11: February 28: National Tooth Fairy Day

Don't tell your kids that this is basically the same thing as Mother's Day and Father's Day.

For an even more exhaustive list of holidays, historical anniversaries and notable birthdays, check out Chase's Calendar of Events.



All images courtesy of ThinkStock 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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