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10 Legendary Monsters of Europe

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There are monsters all around us -or at least the legends of monsters. Last week we saw some of the monsters of Asia. Now here are some of the scariest monsters of Europe.

1. Kelpie

The Kelpie lives in the lakes and rivers of Scotland, and is often referred to as a "water horse" because it is shaped like a horse. However, the monster can assume other shapes in order to fool its victims. It will lure humans to ride on its back and take them to their doom, usually underwater, and eat them. The same type monster is called Glashtyn on the Isle of Man, Nykur in the Faroe Islands and Iceland, Ceffyl D?r in Wales, and Phooka in Ireland. The Loch Ness Monster is sometimes described as a Kelpie.

2. Tatzelwurm

The Tatzelwurm is a dragon that lives in the Alps. The legendary animal goes by different names in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, and descriptions sometimes include that the reptile has a cat-shaped head. Several sightings have been reported in the 21st century of unusual reptiles up to a meter (or two) long, which most folks assume to be escaped pets, possibly monitor lizards or crocodiles.

3. Basilisk

The ancient legendary creature called the Basilisk was feared in Europe and North Africa. It was a combination snake, rooster, bat, and sometimes other animals, that was born from an egg laid by a rooster and incubated by a toad. And it was so venomous, birds flying over it would die! Pliny the Elder wrote about it, and accounts from the Middle Ages blamed basilisks for plague outbreaks and murders. In 1474 in Basel, Switzerland, a rooster was caught trying to lay an egg, and was convicted and executed for his (or most likely, her) unnatural act. A story out of Warsaw, Poland, has an account of a Basilisk retrieved from a basement as recently as the 16th century. The only person in town willing to venture into that basement was a death-row prisoner, willing to risk it to win a pardon.

4. Black Shuck

Black Shuck is the name of a ghost dog that roams Norfolk, Suffolk, and other parts of England. It is a large, black canine with flaming red or green eyes, or sometimes just one eye in the middle of its head. If those eyes catch your gaze directly, you are doomed to death within a year. There are various origin stories for the dog, which was first reported seen in 1577. Black Shuck may have been the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles. Image by GuMNade.

5. Wolpertinger

The Wolpertinger is a chimera, a combination of several animals into one entity, described variously as a rabbit or squirrel with antlers and wings and other animal parts, said to live in the Bavarian region of Germany. The Wolpertinger is a close relation of the American Jackalope, the antlered rabbit. Taxidermists have created plenty of imaginative Wolpertingers. Photograph by EbrithilBowser.

6. Strigoi

Strigoi are Romanian vampires (and you thought they all were Romanian). They come in a couple of flavors: Strigoi mort are the undead, risen from graves, as opposed to Strigoi viu, a living vampire or witch. If a person dies before being married, or has lived a life of pain and regret, they may return as a Strigoi. Children born with a fetal flap or caul on their heads are also in danger of becoming Strigoi, as well as anyone who dies and whose body is walked on by a cat. These monsters typically have red hair, blue eyes, and two hearts. Strigoi can also take the form of an animal to stalk victims and then drink their blood. They can even become invisible in order to attack their relatives. Many of the Hollywood features of vampires came from the Romanian version: Strigoi can be defeated by garlic or a stake through the heart, and they don’t like sunlight. Bury a bottle of wine with a corpse, then dig it up six weeks later. Those who drink this wine will be protected from a possible Strigoi attack -at least by that particular corpse.

7. Loup Garou

The Loup Garou is the French form of a werewolf. This creature can change from a human into a wolf at will, unlike a werewolf, who is at the mercy of the moon's phases. The Loup Garou also keeps his human wits while in the guise of a wolf, which makes it no less dangerous. This legend traveled to Louisiana where it became known as the Rougarou. Image by Djelibaybi.

8. Fear Liath

Fear Liath (full name Am Fear Liath Mòr) is the name given to a ten-foot-tall humanoid creature that haunts the summit of Ben MacDhui, the second-highest mountain in Scotland. It is also called The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui. The creature causes an uncontrollable feeling of dread or panic among hikers who never see it, but feel its presence. The first recorded sighting was by scientist John Norman Collie in 1890, although he was so frightened he didn’t tell anyone of the encounter until 1925. When he did, he found that others had seen the same creature on the same mountain, or at least felt his presence.

9. Gjenganger

The Norwegian ghost known as the Gjenganger comes back from the dead because he left something undone in life, was murdered, or committed suicide. The Gjenganger commits violence against the living and can spread disease by pinching a victim, or in some traditions by biting the face. The Gjenganger also appears in Danish and Swedish lore under slightly different spellings.

10. Banshee

The Irish Banshee is a solitary female fairy connected to a family, although it lives in the forest. The Banshee will scream when a family member's death is imminent, and long after the death in mourning. From this legend we have the phrase "scream like a banshee." It is thought that the legend rises from the practice of "keeners," women who wail in mourning at funerals, sometimes professionally.

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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