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8 Reasons to Love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

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Kara's awesome post on A Charlie Brown Christmas inspired me to write about my favorite Christmas movies. We've already watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation three times this year, and we'll probably watch it again during at least one of our family Christmases. I love it so much I made Christmas cards based on some of my favorite quotes. Well, I want to share the love with you guys. Here are a few things you probably never knew about Clark and the Griswold family.

1. The Capra family must have Christmas in their genes - the assistant director of Christmas Vacation, Frank Capra III, is the grandson of the legendary Frank Capra, who directed It's a Wonderful Life. The part where Clark "fixes" the newel post by sawing it off with a chainsaw is an homage to his grandfather's movie "“ the newel post at the Bailey's house was also loose. Also, Russ is watching It's a Wonderful Life on TV when his grandparents arrive.

2. In the scene where Clark has his total breakdown after receiving his "Christmas bonus" "“ membership in a jelly of the month club "“ he rattles off a jawbreaking, tongue-twister of an insult about his boss. The crew had placed cue cards all over the set behind the camera so Chevy Chase could read the whole insult without stopping. In its entirety, the quote is:

"Hey. If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I'd like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head, and I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, d**kless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey s**t he is. Hallelujah. Holy s**t. Where's the Tylenol?"

eddie.jpg3. You gotta love/hate cousin Eddie. He's just so deliciously white trash. Eddie's "dress clothes" "“ a white sweater with a black dickey, with the dickey very obviously showing through the sweater "“ was Randy Quaid's wife's idea. A genius detail. Cousin Eddie went on to star in his own made-for-TV Christmas Vacation - Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure. Haven't seen it; heard it was awful. I have to admit, the beauty of Cousin Eddie is that you get him in little doses. A whole Cousin Eddie movie would be a bit much, I think.

4. I can always relate to the scene where the two grandpas are asleep in the armchairs while the Christmas parade is on T.V. in the background. This always happens at our Thanksgivings and Christmases "“ grandpas, dads, uncles. What makes the scene even funnier is that the actors who played the grandpas were really both asleep.

bethany.jpg5. Aunt Bethany ("Is your house on fire, Clark?") is played by Mae Questel, the voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. Christmas Vacation was her last movie.

6. Being from the Midwest, Friends and I always laugh when we see the Griswolds driving to get their Christmas tree at the beginning of the movie. Check out the large mountains in the scenery. I don't know about you guys, but I've never seen mountains like that in these parts. Turns out this part of the film was shot in Breckenridge, Colorado, which makes much more sense. The house scenes were shot on set in California. This is evident during outdoor scenes "“ you never see any of the cast's breath when they are standing around waiting for Clark to show them the lights on the house. There are also a few shots where you see non-evergreen trees with full leaves and no snow on them.

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7. Pretty much the whole movie is quotable, but among the ones that get used regularly around our house are:

"Don't throw me down, Clark." - Aunt Bethany
"I don't KNOW, Margo." - Todd the yuppie next-door neighbor
"SQUIRREL!!!" - Clark Sr.
"Lot of sap in here. Looks great"¦ little full. Lotta sap." "“ Clark
"They want you to say grace. THE BLESSING." - Uncle Lewis (complete with finger gesturing, of course).

8. The kids in Christmas Vacation (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki) are the third set of kids. The first Audrey and Rusty were Dana Barron and Anthony Michael Hall in Vacation, the second are Dana Hill and Jason Lively. When Vegas Vacation was released n 1997, the kids were played by Marisol Nichols and Ethan Embry.

Do you love Christmas Vacation or hate it? What's your favorite part?

[Image credit: Bubba.org]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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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]

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