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13 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in June

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We missed the chance to implore you to celebrate "Say Something Nice Day" with us on the first of the month (and "National Leave the Office Early Day" yesterday), but there are plenty of other holidays you can observe this month.

1. June 6: National Donut Day

This is not some part of a new dessert trend. In fact, the holiday, annually the first Friday in June, was founded in 1938 to honor the role the sweet treat played in World War I. Members of the Salvation Army, who became known as "Doughnut Dollies," distributed donuts to soldiers to supplement their rations. Years later, during the Great Depression, the Salvation Army created the holiday to remember these earlier services and encourage fundraising.

2. June 8: World Oceans Day

In 2008, the United Nations officially designated June 8 as a day to honor the part of the planet covered in water. Which is to say, most of it. Even before that it was celebrated by the Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network. These days, it's a growing global event with a focus on education and preservation.

3. June 12: National Jerky Day

This is just the third annual celebration of dried meat snacks. Although it should be noted that the enthusiasm such a holiday implies is tempered by the fact that it is sponsored by the Wisconsin Beef Council.

4. June 13: Blame Someone Else Day

This is celebrated on the first occurrence of a Friday the 13th each year. There is always at least one Friday the 13th in a year, and never more than three. Fun fact: fear of Friday the 13th is known as paraskavedekatriaphobia.

5. June 14: World Juggling Day

Celebrated by juggling clubs around the world, presumably by juggling things.

6. June 16: Bloomsday

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Each year, on the anniversary of the day that James Joyce's Ulysses takes place, fans of the author celebrate his life and work in cities around the world as part of a holiday named for the protagonist: Leopold Bloom.

7. June 18: International Sushi Day

Any food worth its salt, or umami, has its own holiday. But if you're looking for an excuse to eat sushi, June 18th seems as good a day as any other.

8. June 19: Recess At Work Day

Between this and National Leave Work Early Day on June 2nd, there seems to be a celebratory push for less actual work hours in the month of June.

9. June 20: Take Your Dog To Work Day

But if you do have to be in the office, better bring the dog along. I hope the puppy-parents of mental _floss will be celebrating this.

10. June 21: Summer Solstice

Summer kicks off for the Northern Hemisphere with the exact solstice at 6:51 AM, EDT. Daylight lasts from 12 hours eight minutes at the equator to the full 24 hours at the Arctic Circle.

11. June 24: National Columnists Day

A day to send along a friendly note of appreciation to your favorite newspaper columnist. Or mental_floss staff writer.

12. June 27: Decide To Be Married Day

I'm not sure nearly-newlyweds need another day of celebration but here's a day to honor not just the fact that they're getting married, but that they decided to do it. Based on the poem by Barbara Gaugghen-Muller:

“It’s in the deciding to be united in love,
to express your joyful oneness to every person you meet,
and in every action you take
and together a perfect marriage you’ll make.”

13: June 29: Log Cabin Day

This is annually celebrated on the last Sunday in June in Michigan with a series of old timey festivities and, presumably, lots of Lincoln Logs.

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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technology
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
June 21, 2017
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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