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20 Offbeat Holidays to Celebrate in February

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Valentine’s Day and President’s Day might grant you overpriced flowers and a random Monday off, but February has a bounty of other festivals, holidays, and anniversaries that can offer an offbeat added value to your month.

1. February 5: National Weatherman’s Day


There’s a 60 percent chance of your local weatherman being at least 20 percent right about his job today, but there’s a 100 percent chance this holiday takes place on February 5. Whatever percent chance you’re convinced this should be a holiday, give a little thanks for the men and women who help you get dressed appropriately in the morning.

2. February 5th: National Pancake Day (as brought to you by IHOP)


Forget December: This is the most wonderful time of the year. We’re talking about none other than IHOP’s annual National Pancake Day. This year, like the years before it, you can enjoy a free short stack of buttermilks and donate to charity. It’s a win-win. (Except not for your waistline.)

3. February 6: Lame Duck Day

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Though the holiday was created to celebrate the introduction of the 20th Amendment on February 6 of 1933, the amendment was actually ratified in January of that year. Lame Duck Day is a way to honor those who just left office after being rendered totally ineffective for a few months. In other words, it is appropriately lame.

4. February 7: 49th Anniversary of the Beatles' First Visit to the United States

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Beatlemania invaded our shores on this day in 1964, and has arguably never left.

5. February 8: Laugh and Get Rich Day


If only it were that easy! Maybe it can be, why not? Given the healing properties of laughter, all you have to lose is your good health if you don't try.

6. February 9: National Read in the Bathtub Day


Today is the day to treat yourself to a long, warm bath and a good book. But unless you're a fan of severe pruning, this might not be the day to finally finish Infinite Jest.

7. February 10: The First Day of Chinese New Year

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It’s the Year of the Snake, but fear not! Arguably the most important traditional Chinese holiday, the Chinese, or Lunar, New Year entails parades, fireworks, dumplings and familial togetherness. The serpentine year is supposed to bring steady progress, so make your first step towards positive returns by heading to your nearest Chinatown and joining in the festivities.

8. February 12: Darwin Day

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Charles Darwin was born 204 years ago today (side note: Abe Lincoln was born on exactly the same day). The International Darwin Day Foundation elects February 12 as a day to commemorate the man, science in general, and humanity.

9. February 14: Library Lovers Day

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Because sometimes a good book is more emotionally satisfying than a person.

10. February 15: Nirvana Day (also called Paranirvana Day)


Buddhists believe that on this day the Buddha physically died, but also achieved complete Nirvana. Few can claim similar accomplishments in the field of Enlightenment, but most of us can appreciate the pursuit. Buddhist or not, give yourself a few deep breaths. Heck, you made it through Valentine’s Day alive. You’ve earned a little Nirvana.

11. February 17: National PTA Founders Day


The specific day seems to vary from state to state, and even school district to school district—but February 17 is designated as a nationwide day to honor the founding of the National Parent Teacher Association, and the resulting legions of embarrassed kids countrywide.

12. February 17: Random Acts of Kindness Day

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In some parts of the world, Random Acts of Kindness Day is actually observed on September 1. But what’s the harm in two days of niceness? So as our magnanimous act for the day, we’re happy to grant February 17 equal footing in the kindness department.

13. February 17: 80th Anniversary of Newsweek Magazine


When the presses were stopped last year, Newsweek moved exclusively into the digital world—all the more reason to honor its first issue, which dropped this day in 1933, and the many issues that followed.

14. February 21: 41st Anniversary of Nixon’s Historic Beijing Visit

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In 1972, a pre-disgrace President Richard Nixon arrived in Beijing to make a huge step in normalizing diplomatic relations with China. From the visit, the United States got the beginnings of a beautiful, though sometimes tempestuous, friendship with the Eastern power, and two pandas for the National Zoo.

15. February 22: National Margarita Day

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It should come as a surprise to no one that Jimmy Buffett is behind this one. If you have already given up on your Lenten promises, celebrate February 22 by appreciating as many Margaritas as you deem fit. If you happen to live near a Margaritaville drinking establishment, they will be providing specials all day.

16. February 22: Single Tasking Day

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The modern day rat race places a heavy emphasis on the ability to juggle multiple tasks at once. Our greatest weakness as a workforce is caring too much, right? Well, for just a day, drop all your multi-tasking impulses and devote your full attention to each bullet on your to-do list. Successful celebration may require you to turn off your smartphone.

17. February 23: World Sword Swallower’s Day

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President of Sword Swallowers International Dan Meyer proclaimed February 23, 2013, World Sword Swallower’s Day as a way to raise awareness about the art. On this day at 2:25 p.m., swallowers will “drop sword” at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! odditoriums around the world.

18. February 25: National Pistol Patent Day

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It was on this day in 1836 Samuel Colt patented his famous revolver in the United States. Europe got his patent first in 1835 on a different date, which is why this specific holi-date is relegated to a mere “national” status.

19. February 27: Congress Makes an Honest District out of DC

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On this day in 1801, Congress declared the District of Columbia officially under its jurisdiction with the Organic Act of 1801. However, it was not until the ratification of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 that the capital district received electoral votes.

20. February 28: National Public Sleeping Day


In most parts of the United States, the weather might be less than optimal for observing this offbeat holiday, but to the brave and/or foolish among us: wear layers.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Library of Congress
10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.


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To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.


One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.


WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.


Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.


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Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”


The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.


Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.


Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.


The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.


Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.