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15 International Greeting Rituals Americans Should Adopt

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1. Hongi

The traditional welcome greeting of the Maori—the indigenous people of that other place down under, New Zealand—is called the hongi. Loosely translated as “the sharing of breath of life,” the greeting involves two individuals pressing their noses against each other gently.

2. Hand Claps

An evening greeting in Zimbabwe involves hand clapping. Men clap hello and goodbye with their flat hands while women traditionally cup their hands. A few quick claps can also mean “thank you.”

3. Salam

This traditional Malay greeting resembles a simple handshake, but incorporates both hands to initiate the greeting. The two people lightly grasp both hands and then bring both to rest, palms down, on their own chest. The gesture symbolizes goodwill and that you greet the other person with an open heart.

4. Kunik

Inuit cultures greet each other with a “kunik,” which is similar to the hongi in that the greeter presses his or her nose and upper lip against their friend. The ritual greeting comes from the Inuit tradition of sniffing the face of a buddy or family member as a sign of affection.

5. Pressing thumbs

This traditional Zambian greeting foregoes any handshaking whatsoever. Instead, the greeters gently squeeze each other’s thumbs to say hello.

6. 3-part handshake

In Botswana the handshake is the normal greeting ritual, but they take it a few steps further. To begin, take another person’s right hand in yours in the normal handshake position—but only shake up and down one time. The next step involves keeping your thumbs interlocked while raising each right arm upwards to make a right angle, then end that step with a second grasp of the hands. Finally, with thumbs still linked, drop your arm back down for a final regular old shake of the hands.

7. Light Shake

They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—or in China’s case, just do it without much eye contact. The western-style handshake is accepted in China as a greeting, but the preferred method comes with a couple of minor caveats. The lighter the grip the better, and the greeting should always be done in a constant pumping motion. While doing so, make sure not to make eye contact; staring sternly into someone’s eyes is seen as a sign of disrespect.

8. Bow

The bow is perhaps the most recognizable non-Western greeting tradition, but the act goes past a mere bending at the waist. In Japan, the extent of the bow correlates to the amount of respect shown to the recipient. Casual bows begin with a small nod of the head—a gesture more common among casual youth interactions—and can go all the way to ninety-degree bends at the waist as the most extreme example of the sometimes reverential greeting.

9. Wai

Thailand’s similar version of the bow is called a “wai.” It involves placing both of your own hands together as if in a prayer position, and holding them at chest level. The higher the hand position is on your body, the more respectful the gesture is to the recipient. The hand position is then accompanied by a slight bow to top it off.

10. Sungkem

One variation on bow-type greetings is practiced on the Indonesian island of Java. People clasp both hands at about waist-height while one person bows down towards their joined hands as a sign of deep respect and greetings.

11. Sticking out your tongue

Stick your tongue out just about anywhere else in the world and you’ll get in trouble—if not a few weird looks—but not in Tibet. Sticking one’s tongue out is seen as a customary welcome, and the tradition, in fact, comes from an evil black-tongued 9th century king named Lang Darma. To prove that you weren’t the reincarnated king, people would stick their tongue out to show it wasn’t black.

12. Sogi

Another greeting similar to the hongi and to the kunik is the sogi, the traditional greeting of the small Polynesian island of Tuvalu. The greeting involves firmly pressing your nose against the other person’s nose and inhaling deeply at the same time.

13. Nose Kiss

The men of Oman take the nose-based greeting a step further. They press their noses together, but then repeatedly peck them together over and over as if kissing. Some people who greet like this also make kissing noises while they do it.

14. Hada

Mongolians traditionally welcome unfamiliar guests by presenting them with a “hada,” a strip made of either silk or cotton. To politely accept the greeting gift, one should slightly bow as a sign of mutual friendship.

15. Spitting

Saving perhaps the best for last, the Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania greet friends by spitting on one another. Spitting is still acceptable when greeting elders, but a younger tribesman traditionally spits on his own hand before offering it to older members of the tribe as a sign of respect.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated. 

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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