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11 Legendary Monsters of Asia

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Every country has eerie tales of monsters from hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. There are many such stories from Asia; here are a few of those monsters you might want to tell the kids about the next time you have a campfire on a dark and spooky night.

1. Penanggalan

The Penanggalan is a Malaysian vampire-type monster, who separates at the neck and flies with her entrails dragging behind her. During the day she appears as a regular woman, but her head flies off at night so she can flit around terrifying people, and supposedly eating newborn babies. Rituals for protection against the monster (or just luck) are used for pregnant women or when a new baby is born. The Penanggalan smells of vinegar, because she must clean her dangling entrails with it and stuff them back into her body through the neck by morning. How did she get that way? Legends vary, but she supposedly was a normal woman until someone startled her so badly that her head popped off. The monster is called by other names, such as Hantu Penanggal, Leyak, or Krasue, in other Southeast Asian countries. Image by Xavier Romero-Frias.

2. Mongolian Death Worm

The Mongolilan Death Worm (Allghoi khorkhoi) is two to five feet long and spits acid at anyone who crosses its path. At least that's what the locals in Mongolia's Gobi Desert tell outsiders who visit. The worm resembles a cow's intestines but is red. If you touch it, or if it spits at you, instant death follows, which probably explains why there are no photographs. Although most consider it legendary, a couple of journalists went to Mongolia to find evidence of whatever it was that engendered the story of the Mongolian Death Worm. Image by Pieter Dirkx.

3. Namahage

Namahage in Noshiro

The Namahage are Japanese ogres who, legend says, once terrorized the countryside if they weren't placated with bribes of food and, once a year, a young woman. The legend survives in a ritual that takes place in Japan on New Year's Eve, when people dressed in masks as Namahage go door-to-door, threatening the lazy, and scaring children into hard work and good behavior. Photograph by Flickr user ChrisSteph LewisBoegeman.

4. Kappa

The Kappa lives in the rivers and waterways of Japan. It is bigger than a turtle, but has a turtle shell, or maybe scaly skin like a fish, or sometimes fur. The Kappa is said to be able to walk upright like a human, and it always has a depression in its skull where it keeps water, which is the source of its power. The Kappa comes out of the water to enchant children and lure them into the river where it can eat them. This story is often told to children to scare them from getting too close to the water. According to this old print, a good fart will repel them.

5. Almasty

The Almasty roams the Caucasus mountains of central Asia. Dr. Marie-Jeanne Koffmann collected over 500 accounts of Almasty sightings in many different languages throughout the Caucasus region, with virtually the same description:

“The Almastys are like people; they have arms and legs like people, except that they are covered with hair. The hair is like that of a bear, and dark. I always saw them without clothing . . . they do not know how to speak; they only mumble or bellow. They are not afraid of people, only of dogs. They run very fast.”

The picture above is a sketch made right after a 1955 sighting by a member of a Russian geological expedition. An animal of the same description is called Almas in Mongolia.

6. Nue

The Nue is a Japanese chimera described with the body parts of different animals all in one being, though exact combinations vary. A legend from the year 1153 says:

Emperor Konoe begins having terrible nightmares every night, to the point that he falls ill, and it seems that the source is a dark cloud that appears on the palace roof every night at two in the morning. The problem is eventually solved by Yorimasu Minamoto, who stakes out the roof one night and fires an arrow into the cloud, out of which falls a dead Nue. Yorimasu then takes the body and sinks it into the Sea of Japan.

7. Vetala

Some of the world’s oldest tales of vampires come from India, where ancient Hindu stories were taken to other nations by traders and nomads. Among these beings are the Vetala, who are dead but not at rest because the proper funeral rites were not performed for them. They are also described as evil spirits that occupy corpses. A Vetal (singular) has uncanny knowledge of the past, present, and future which it uses to confound humans, although they sometimes become guards or helpers to sorcerers who enslave them. Vetala live in cemeteries, but wander afield to kill children and livestock. You may recognize a Vetal because the corpse’s hands and feet are turned backwards.

8. Phaya Naga

The Phaya Naga is a Laotian dragon that lives in the Mekong River. It is also known in Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam. The Naga is a benign deity that protects the city of Vientiane. Naga Fireballs are said to be produced by the dragon, but are actually thought to be the product of fermentation below the surface of the water.

9. Tikbalang

The Tikbalang is the demon horse of the Philippines. This monster has the head and feet of a horse with very long limbs, and the body of a human so it walks upright. They roam the forests and occasionally rape women and leave them pregnant with Tikbalang babies. Image by DeviantArt member frigga.

10. Manticore

The Manticore is a man-eating chimera with the body of a lion and a human head. The legend of the Manticore arises from the Middle East. The Persians just called it "man-eater," and the name Manticore is a Romanized version.

11. Manananggal

The Manananggal of the Philippines has some features of the Penanggalan. This vampire is an old but attractive woman who preys on pregnant women and uses her tongue to suck the blood of their unborn babies. A child born with a deformed face is said to have been a victim. The Manananggal travels by separating at the waist. Her top half flies with bat wings while her bottom half remains behind. If you find the bottom half, you can destroy the manananggal by covering it with salt, garlic, or ashes. Image by DeviantART member mrrogers4566.

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]