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10 of the World's Most Entertaining New Year's Customs

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Watching the ball drop in Times Square, raising a toast, and sealing the night with a smooch may be the most quintessentially American ways to celebrate, but around the world, revelers and party-goers give the traditional ball drop a run for its money. From shattering dishes to carefully choosing underwear for the night, here are 10 of the world’s most entertaining ways to ring in the New Year.

1. BRAZIL // UNDERWEAR ATTIRE

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While some of us don our most shimmery dresses for the New Year's party—or our comfiest pajamas to celebrate with a low-key night in—Brazilians take a much simpler, minimalistic approach to ringing in the New Year: The dress code is for all-white attire, but the color of your underwear is thought to determine your arena of luck in the new year. Want to find love? Pick the pink panties. Financial security may be attained by wearing yellow undergarments, and green is for good health.

2. DENMARK // SHATTERING DISHES

The Danish get a jump on cleaning out their cupboards by taking any chipped or unused crockery and shattering it against their friends' and families' doors to ring in the new year. The more plate pieces piled at your doorstep, the more popular your family … which may or may not make the next day's hungover cleanup more manageable.

3. SPAIN // A MOUTH FULL OF GRAPES

The Spanish don’t just celebrate the New Year with drink in hand—they ring it in with a mouth full of grapes. If you can fit 12 grapes into your mouth at midnight, you’re believed to have great luck in the coming year.

4. SIBERIA // LAKE DIVING WITH A "NEW YEAR TREE"

A typical ball-and-gown party doesn’t cut it in Siberia; they’re all about the thrill—and chill. To celebrate the New Year, some revelers participate in the annual "jump into a frozen lake and plant a New Year's Tree at the bottom" tradition—sort of like a more extreme Polar Plunge. The divers then pass the champagne and dance around the tree before coming back up to the surface. But even those who don't do the full tree dive will go for their own frozen swim—there's a reason all Russian bath houses have an icy cold pool! It's practically a national pastime.

5. CHILE // CEMETERY SLEEPOVER

In the town of Talca, Chile, locals add extra spirit to New Year’s Eve by celebrating the holiday in a cemetery, surrounded by all of their deceased loved ones. Legend has it this tradition started with a little breaking and entering, but it’s now a welcomed celebration that draws locals in by the thousands.

6. ESTONIA // EATING SEVEN TIMES ON NEW YEAR'S DAY

Estonia knows how to kick off the New Year right. Instead of resolving to diet and exercise, they eat—a lot. Traditionally, Estonians believed that by eating seven times on New Year’s Day, they could ensure a well-fed, abundant year. While this tradition has changed slightly over the years—Estonians celebrate with alcohol as much as food these days—it’s a tradition party-goers around the world participate in without even realizing it. (Cough, Seamless binge, cough.)

7. THAILAND // WATER FIGHT

While the Thai New Year isn’t until April 13, their celebratory festival, called Songkran, is just too good to pass up: a water fight. Yes, a full-on water fight where major roads are blocked off and Thai locals—and, as you’d imagine, loads of visitors—use buckets, fire hoses, water guns, and even elephants to throw water at each other. Inner child, rejoice—and purchase Songkran plane tickets immediately.

8. ECUADOR // BURNING EFFIGIES

Ecuador literally lights up on New Year’s Eve. Locals make large, paper-filled effigies that can resemble anyone from beloved pop culture figures like Homer Simpson to maligned politicians, and they set them on fire when the clock strikes midnight. As the tale goes, this burning ritual lets Ecuadorians forget the past and focus on a good New Year.

9. AUSTRALIA // SYDNEY FIREWORKS DISPLAY

As one of the first countries to celebrate the New Year, Australians kick off the festivities with a major bang—to the tune of seven firework-filled barges. The annual 12-minute show—one of the world’s largest fireworks displays—dazzles more than 1 million spectators who gather along the waterfront, with the beautiful Sydney Opera House as its backdrop. They even host an earlier fireworks show, at 9 p.m., for any little Aussies whose bedtime is long before the main event.

10. SOUTH AFRICA // THROWING HOUSEHOLD ITEMS OUT THE WINDOW

To end things on a slightly absurd (and rather unsafe) note, we have Johannesburg, South Africa, where locals ring in the New Year by throwing old household items out the window—a quite literal "out with the old" type of symbolism. The tradition has gotten a bit out of hand in recent years, as residents in high-rise buildings have taken to tossing furniture, appliances, bottles and, well, just about anything out the windows. As you’d expect, this tradition comes with its set of annual injuries, but local government is doing its part to keep the New Year’s celebrations safe—even if it’s accompanied by the age-old warning, "Watch out below!"

All images via Getty.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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