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10 Very Canadian Questions From the Canadian Citizenship Test

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Suspicions of "rampant cheating" led the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) to make the Canadian Citizenship Test more difficult in 2010. Gone were the brisk, wintery days of 4 to 8 percent failure rates. The test was replaced with a harsh, bitterly cold multiple choice exam with more queries added to the pool of questions, and a minimum passing grade of 75 percent (previously, it had been 60 percent). Immediately after the change, answering 15 of 20 multiple choice questions correctly in 30 minutes proved to be too difficult for 30 percent of the applicants.

To ease the suddenly heavy workflow of the citizenship judges who ultimately rule on the fate of applicants who fail the written exam, a recalibration was applied one month later to get the pass rate in the 80 to 85 percent range, a rate the CIC said would prove that the test is not too easy or too difficult.

A couple of websites provide practice quizzes for the test, which, like the actual exam, use information from the 63 page guide Discover Canada. The kind folks at the Richmond Library provide a practice test, and some of the 137 sample questions from the English language version (you may also take the test in French) will probably make you wish you did your homework.


a. David Johnston

b. Elizabeth May

c. Dalton McGuinty

d. Michaëlle Jean

A better question: What exactly is a Governor General? A Governor General represents the Canadian monarch, who currently would be Queen Elizabeth II. Since Her Majesty is too busy to deal with much Canada-related business, the Governor General represents Canada on visits abroad and receives royal visitors, heads of state, and foreign ambassadors. Technically, he or she wields a lot of power, capable of kicking out the prime minister if the government was ever stuck in a political stalemate. However, it's mostly considered to be a ceremonial role, and some scholars believe that the reserve power is too archaic to pose a threat—a Governor General has never booted a Prime Minister in the country's history.

The answer to the original question is A) David Johnston, who succeeded D) Michaëlle Jean. Elizabeth May is the Hartford, Connecticut-born leader of the Green Party of Canada. Dalton McGuinty was the Premier of Ontario from 2003 to 2013.


a. Governor General of Canada

b. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

c. Prime Minister

d. Lieutenant Governor

You would maybe figure that the Prime Minister would have the honors, but Canada is still a constitutional monarchy, and its head of state is the monarch. Even though Queen Elizabeth II appears on the $20 bill and on coins, 55 percent of Canadians would prefer a home-grown citizen to have the distinction of Head of State rather than the Queen. In fact, 37 percent of Canadians in a poll conducted last year are in favor (or favour) of abolishing the monarchy entirely, a number that decreased from an earlier survey due to the birth of future King George.


a. The West Movement

b. The Revolution

c. The Quiet Revolution

d. La Francophonie

The answer is The Quiet Revolution. The deaths of Conservative Premier Maurice Duplesses in September 1959 and his successor Paul Sauvé 112 days later led to Liberal government in Quebec, which oversaw a 1960s increase of secularization of society, and huge economic growth. "La Francophonie" is an international organization founded in 1970 representing 57 countries and regions where French is the first or customary language, with Canada as part of that representation. There is no Canadian event that is officially known as "The West Movement" or simply "The Revolution."


a. 20

b. 308

c. 178

d. 59

The answer is currently 308, but when the next federal election comes around, there will be 338 seats in the House of Commons. The election is tentatively scheduled for October 2015, but elections can technically be called at any time by the Governor General, usually from the advice of the prime minister.


a. Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland

b. Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Alberta

c. Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia

d. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada

The answer is Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

On July 1, 1867, three British colonies became four provinces in the new federal dominion of Canada. The United Province of Canada was divided into Ontario and Quebec, forming Confederation with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Manitoba was next in 1870, followed by British Columbia one year later. Prince Edward Island came next in 1873, once the federal government agreed to operate a ferry link. Alberta and Saskatchewan joined in 1905. Newfoundland was actually last to the party, becoming the tenth province in 1949, and since 2001 has been known as Newfoundland and Labrador.


a. Midwest, North, South, East, Central

b. Maritimes, Ontario, Quebec, Prairies and British Columbia

c. Atlantic, Central, Prairie, West Coast and North

d. West, Central, East, Prairies and Territories

The answer is C. There is no official "East."

The Atlantic region and the Maritimes are one and the same and include the provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island. Ontario and Québec make up the Central Region, where half the population of Canada lives. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta are the Prairie Provinces. The West Coast is taken up by British Columbia all by itself. The term "Western provinces" is also used to refer to the Prairies and British Columbia, and the North consists of the three Canadian territories Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.


a. O Canada

b. God Save the Queen (or King)

c. Bud the Spud

d. The Star-Spangled Banner

Figuring out the answer is admittedly easy — obviously the Royal Anthem is "God Save the Queen," with "O Canada" being the National Anthem, but what, or who, is "Bud the Spud"?

"Bud the Spud" was the creation of the late country singer Stompin' Tom Connors and the opening track from the 1969 album Bud the Spud and Other Favorites. It's about a proud "son of a gun" folk hero that draws the ire of the police for speeding from Prince Edward Island to Toronto and back delivering high quality potatoes. It peaked at #26 on the Country Tracks chart in 1970, but the song has remained a part of the culture through the years.


a. The candidate's name

b. The number for the candidate

c. An "X"

d. The voter's name

The answer is C. You mark the "X" next to the name of the candidate you are voting for. Federal elections currently still use paper ballots.

It is interesting to note that Canadians are apparently less and less pleased with any of their possible representatives. While there is no such option in federal elections, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta recognize "declined votes," which is when an officer hands a voter a ballot and the voter simply hands it right back. The officer writes "declined" on the ballot and it is put on the record that the elector opted not to vote for anyone. This year, 31,399 Ontario citizens declined their ballots, the highest amount in almost 40 years.


a. Sir John A. Macdonald

b. Robert Baldwin

c. Louis Riel

d. Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine

"Responsible government" refers to a government responsible to the people, not to the monarch or their representatives, giving colonists control of their domestic affairs. For Canada, the creation of one ultimately led to Confederation. D) Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine was the first Canadian to become Prime Minister of the United Province of Canada, and the first head of a responsible government. Robert Baldwin worked with La Fontaine and led the first "responsible ministry" in Canada. Louis Riel was the founder of Manitoba, and leader of two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.


a. A great frontier hero, Mounted Policeman and soldier of the Queen

b. A military leader of the Métis in the 19th century

c. The first Prime Minister of Canada

d. The Father of Manitoba

With a name like Sir Sam Steele, you kind of have to be a great frontier hero. The third officer sworn into the North-West Mounted Police, Steele made the NWMP famous for leading his force in keeping the Klondike Gold Rush under control in the Yukon. He fought in the Red River and North-West Rebellions, the Second Boer War, and was commander of the 2nd Canadian division in World War I at the age of 66. For his troubles, the fifth largest mountain in Canada, Mount Steele, is named after him.

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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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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.