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7 Tooth Fairy Traditions From Around the World

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Friday was National Tooth Fairy Day, and while plenty of Americans surely celebrated the day by employing the fairy (or fairies) and her generous cash giving, the rest of the world has their own tooth-centric traditions in place to honor anyone or anything responsible for whisking their teeth away. Think that placing your tooth under a pillow and waiting for money to appear in its place is wacky? You haven’t seen anything yet!

1. The United States and Beyond

In America (and other primarily English-speaking countries), the tooth fairy is typically employed in a relatively simple transaction that sounds totally bizarre when explained to the uninitiated: In order to help ease the trauma of losing baby teeth, American kids are paid off for their toofers—lose a tooth, put it under your pillow, go to sleep. At some point, a fairy will arrive to exchange the tooth for some cash. Last year, the going rate was an average of $3.70 per tooth. See? Losing teeth really isn’t so bad. (You can read a history of the American Tooth Fairy here.)

2. Spain

One of Spain’s (and other Hispanic cultures, including Mexico, Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia) most beloved myths centers on Ratocinto Perez, aka Raton Perez, aka Perez Mouse, aka El Raton de Los Dientes, who is just what he sounds like—a mouse who collects teeth. Like the tooth fairy, Perez gets the teeth only after they’ve been lost and put under a child’s pillow. Perez will then replace it with a gift—not always money—and leave it to be found by a happy child in the morning. Some Argentinean kids switch it up by sticking their teeth in a glass of water before bed. When Perez shows up—surely parched from all his teeth-collecting—he’ll drink up the water, grab the tooth, and leave his gift in the empty glass. Want to learn more? Visit the Ratoncito Pérez museum in Madrid!

3. South Africa

South Africans might ascribe to the same general line of thinking—leave the tooth, get some money—but they don’t use pillows as tooth holsters. Instead, their baby teeth go into slippers.

4. India, China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam

Putting a tooth under a pillow sounds soft and sweet, but it also sounds kind of boring. What about tossing those teeth around? In some Asian countries, that’s just what they do. Historically, kids who lose teeth from their lower jaw will throw their teeth onto their roof, while upper jaw teeth go on the floor or even under it (the idea is the new tooth will be pulled towards the old tooth). That’s not all, though, because as the tooth-losing kiddo tosses their teeth, they sometimes yell out a wish that the missing tooth be replaced by the tooth of a mouse. What, is Raton Perez at it again? Nope, mice (and other rodents) just have teeth that continually grow, which sounds like a wise request when one goes missing.

5. Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt

Asian countries aren’t the only place you’ll find kids throwing their teeth up in the air—in some Middle Eastern countries, kids are encouraged to toss their teeth up toward the sky. It’s possible that the tossed teeth tradition dates all the way back to the 13th century.

6. Mongolia

Throughout Central Asia, it's traditional to put the tooth into some fat and feed it to a dog (don't try this at home). This is done because they want the grown up tooth to be as strong as the dog's teeth. If there's no dog? Bury it by a tree so that the new tooth has strong roots.

7. France

Mice aren’t just big business around Spain; the French also abandon their teeth to their very own mouse: “La Bonne Petite Souris.” As is so often the case, the tiny mouse will procure teeth left under pillows, replacing them with either cash or sweets (bad idea, Petite Souris).

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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