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16 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in March

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Before we dive into a calendar of daily celebrations, let's consider some of March's month-long events. It is Optimism Month and National Umbrella Month, which seem slightly at odds; National Peanut Month and National Frozen Food Month, for the low-brow foodies out there; and International Mirth Month and Humorists Are Artists Month, so you should be laughing appreciatively for the next 31 days. Here's what else you can celebrate, courtesy of Chase's Calendar of Events:

1. March 1: National Pig Day

"Pigs aren't really fat. They're Rubenesque," Mary Lynne Rave told the Virgin Island Daily News in 1980. Concerned about the poor pig's reputation, Rave and her sister Ellen Stanley had founded National Pig Day back in 1972. She told the paper that the purpose of Pig Day is "to accord the pig its rightful, though generally unrecognized, place as one of man's most intellectual and domesticated animals."

Modern celebrations include porcine parades, promotions by the Minor League Baseball team, the IronPigs, and feats of pork, which is presumably not the pigs' favorite part.

2. March 2: Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel's Birthday

The birthday of one of the most prolific and profound children's book authors has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America Day, which encourages—what else?—reading books both Seussical and otherwise.

3. March 3: What if Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day

Hannah Keyser

We would have to lock their food up more securely.

4. March 4: International Pancake Day

Tradition has it that in an effort to use up all the cooking fat before the fasting of Lent began, a woman in Olney, England was frantically cooking up pancakes when she heard the church bells begin to ring. Eager to be on time, she took off running towards the church—with skillet and pancake still in hand.

This inspired a town-wide tradition and starting in 1445, the women of Olney, England would race to the church on the day before Lent began while carrying a pancake in a skillet. In 1950, a magazine photo tipped the residents of Liberal, Kansas off to the strange custom, and they decided to challenge the originators to a trans-Atlantic race. Every year since, the two towns have held races and compared times in an ongoing rivarly. These days, the event has grown to include various pancake cooking and eating contests and has spread beyond these two towns into a truly international celebration of the sweet, carby breakfast favorite.

5. March 7: Middle Name Pride Day

Stop feeling ashamed of your middle name, people who feel ashamed of their middle names!

6. March 8: National Proofreading Day

Copy editors, rejoice! A whole day to promote error-free writing—or at least, the finding of one's own errors.

7. March 10: Mario Day

Written in abbreviated form, this date reads Mar. 10. Or, as it appeared to a Mr. Mario Fascitelli: MARIO. Fascitelli decided this quirk of the calendar was deserving of a holiday for people to celebrate the Marios in their lives.

8. March 13: National Open An Umbrella Indoors Day

The thinking here is that we all break this taboo on the same day and then track the bad luck that follows. Apparently, even in dealing with cosmic evil there is strength in numbers.

9. March 14: Pi Day

A day to celebrate the mathematical constant that starts 3.14, which represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Or, since that's no fun at all, a day to eat pie. If you're looking for other ways to celebrate, we have an irrationally high number of Pi items in the mental_floss store.

10. March 15: Ides of March

Prior to 44 BC, the Ides of March just meant March 15, according to the Roman method of measuring months by counting down from three points, with the ides as the middle marker. But then Julius Caesar had to go get stabbed on the floor of the senate by a group of conspirators led by Brutus and Cassius, having not heeded a soothsayer's warning that the day would bring him harm. Shakespeare immortalized this unheralded message to "beware the Ides of March" in his play, Julius Caesar.

11. March 18: Awkward Moment Day

You can start by wishing complete strangers a "happy awkward moment day."

12. March 20: Proposal Day

This biannual event is timed according to the vernal and autumnal equinox. The holiday offers "an opportunity to raise the subject of marriage proposals in a light-hearted and non-threatening manner." The official website goes on to say "the holiday helps the single who is seeking marriage in the relationship avoid unknowingly spending years more searching for a ring within a relationship that does not present that opportunity now and is not ever likely to present it in the future." Because everyone knows that open and honest communication about the future of a romantic relationship can only take place under the auspices of a nationally-recognized holiday.

13. March 21: National Puppy Day

Founded in 2006, Puppy Day encourages people to not only ogle adorable puppies—although certainly that too—but also to consider adopting a puppy from the pound and avoid puppy mills or pet stores.

14. March 22: National Goof-Off Day

Because nothing says good-natured silliness like confining it to a specific day.

15. March 29: Earth Hour

A worldwide grass-roots movement to promote conservation and bring attention to climate change, Earth Hour encourages participants to turn off all non-essential lights for one hour. The event, which is organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature, began in 2007 in Sydney, Australia but has since spread to over 4000 cities around the world. This year, the switch off will occur from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. local time.

16. March 31: National "She's Funny That Way" Day

A whole day dedicated to admitting the humorous nature of women? That's not marginalizing at all!

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 unless otherwise noted.


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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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