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A Brief History of Flag Day

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Ingloriously crammed between the summer’s other two big holidays – that would be Memorial Day and Labor Day – Flag Day doesn’t tend to get much respect. Perhaps things would be different if we got the day off, or if there was any kind of actual glamour surrounding the holiday, perhaps the advent of a signature Flag Day snack or cocktail? Or maybe Flag Day just needs something simple – like a brief history  to help contextualize it against the backdrop of summer’s better-known holidays.

What Is Flag Day?

Before we go digging for some Flag Day dirt, it seems prudent to address just what the holiday is actually meant to celebrate. Every June 14th, the United States doesn’t just celebrate the flag as a single entity; it actually celebrates the adoption of the flag itself, which happened nice and early in American history – June 14, 1777. Basically, Flag Day is the birthday of the American flag. Please don’t celebrate with candles and cake.

Flag Day’s Unfailing Supporters

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You’d think that getting a holiday to honor the most recognizable symbol of America, the Stars and Stripes, would be pretty easy. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Although the flag was adopted as the country’s official banner in 1777, it took nearly one hundred and fifty years for it to get its own holiday, something that a lot of people worked to make happen.

There’s some debate over who first suggested the holiday – one story holds that, in 1861, Hartford, Connecticut resident George Morris suggested the idea, which then led to a formal observance of the day (June 14th) in his hometown.

Other sources claim that it was B.J. Cigrand who invented Flag Day when the schoolteacher had his Wisconsin class celebrate it in 1885 at the Stony Hill School. Even if Cigrand didn’t really think up the day, he became its poster boy (he’s still known as “the Father of Flag Day”) and its biggest supporter, traveling around the country to chat up groups about the need for an official Flag Day and other ways to be patriotic. Cigrand eventually became editor-in-chief of American Emblem magazine, a publication dedicated to, well, American emblems. Later, Cigrand became the president of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society.

In 1893, Pennsylvania resident (and Benjamin Franklin descendent) Elizabeth Duane Gillespie tried to get a state resolution passed that required the flag to be put on display in each of Philadelphia’s public buildings.

The next year, Flag Day was celebrated in Chicago, and the highly successful event was repeated the year after that. Flag Day was catching on!

In 1889, another schoolteacher, New York City’s George Balch, had his class celebrate Flag Day on June 14th, an idea that proved popular enough to be adopted by the State Education Board of New York for the whole state.

In 1907, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks officially designated June 14th as Flag Day, and the fraternal order and social club has celebrated it every year since (in 1911, they even made it mandatory for all Lodges to observe it, that’s how serious they are about Flag Day). The Elks even pushed the sitting President to give Flag Day some official status, which finally happened in 1916.

Why Don't We Get Flag Day Off?

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President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation that created the official holiday we know as “Flag Day,” way back in 1916. Yet the holiday didn’t become a national one until 1949, when an Act of Congress turned the day into “National Flag Day.” Ever wonder why we don’t get Flag Day off? Because it’s not a federal holiday, most of which are celebrated by the glory of a free day from work and school.

If you live in Pennsylvania or New York, though, your Flag Day experience might be a bit different – Pennsylvania adopted Flag Day as a state holiday back in 1937, and New York has designated the second Sunday of June as the official state holiday celebration of Flag Day.

The Army Connection

The flag shares its birthday with another important American institution – the United States Army, which was created as the “American Continental Army” by the same Second Continental Congress that passed the resolution to adopt the new flag.

Celebrating the Holiday

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What’s the best way to celebrate Flag Day? By flying your flag, of course! The week of June 14th is officially “National Flag Week,” and all U.S. citizens are encouraged to fly their flag for at least part of the period. You can get more serious with a parade or another fun event, as long as the flag is present and appropriately cared for and flown.

Want to really do up this Flag Day? Go visit the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia or Cigrand’s old school in Wisconsin, which has been fully restored to reflect the time period during which he supposedly thought up the holiday.

Other People’s Flags

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America is, of course, not the only country to celebrate the creation of their flag with an official Flag Day – Australia’s Flag Day is in September, Argentina also celebrates in June, and Canada honors their own maple leaf the day after Valentine’s Day.

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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