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15 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in February

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Don't let the dead of winter get you down: February has all kinds of offbeat reasons to party hard.

1. FEBRUARY 1: NATIONAL CANDY-MAKING DAY

We're not the boss of this holiday, but we're pretty sure you can celebrate with good old fashioned candy eating.

2. FEBRUARY 2: HEDGEHOG DAY

It might technically be Groundhog Day, but just look at this cuddly creature. He also needs celebrating.

3. FEBRUARY 3: WORKING NAKED DAY

A PSA on behalf of everyone: If you plan on participating, please stay home.

4. FEBRUARY 6: NATIONAL BARBER DAY

A holiday to honor those who keep men looking presentable, and hipsters looking like hipsters.

5. FEBRUARY 7: WAVE ALL YOUR FINGERS AT YOUR NEIGHBORS DAY

In other words, consider actually interacting with the people that live nearby, whether across the street or in the apartment below you. We know it's asking a lot—be brave!

6. FEBRUARY 11: SATISFIED STAYING SINGLE DAY

Why have a significant other when you can have an awesome solo dance party like this?

7. FEBRUARY 13: GET A DIFFERENT NAME DAY

If you're called Phil, but you always wanted to be named something a little more flowery (say Barnaby), or unusual (how about Pilot Inspektor?), or hip (hello, Noah), today's the day to take the plunge and give yourself a new moniker.

8. FEBRUARY 13: MADLY IN LOVE WITH ME DAY

On the eve of Valentine's Day, take some time to love you.

9. FEBRUARY 13: NATIONAL WINGMAN’S DAY

Also on the eve of Valentine's Day, take some time to love the men and women who make our dating regrets possible.

10. FEBRUARY 14: EXTRATERRESTRIAL CULTURE DAY

On the most romantic day of the year, this New Mexico holiday asks that you redirect your ardor to the alien culture of past, present, and future. Sounds sexy to us.

11. FEBRUARY 20: NORTHERN HEMISPHERE HOODIE-HOO DAY

On this day, residents of the Northern Hemisphere take to the streets at noon, toss their hands in the air, and exclaim, "Hoodie Hoo!" It's meant to chase away winter, and while it might sound ineffectual, we challenge you to come up with a better idea.

12. FEBRUARY 23: CURLING IS COOL DAY

As if anyone needed convincing.

13. FEBRUARY 23: NATIONAL CHILI DAY

With about a month to go until spring, be sure to enjoy some piping hot bowls while it's still prime chili season.

14. FEBRUARY 25: OPEN THAT BOTTLE NIGHT

Whether it's that one you've been saving or one that you grabbed on your trip home from work, today's a good day to pop a bottle.

15. FEBRUARY 28: NATIONAL TOOTH FAIRY DAY

Smile wide and celebrate everyone's favorite tooth collector.

Holidays found in Chase's Calendar of Events 2017. All photos courtesy of iStock.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

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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