CLOSE
Original image

You Better Watch Out: 7 Evil Santas in TV and Film

Original image

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus...and chances are he's evil.

Hollywood has tried to explain away the cheeriness and unending generosity of Santa to meet all sorts of sordid and disturbing plotlines with varying degrees of success and failure—but mostly failure. These are the Santa Clauses who never knew the meaning of the word "nice."

1. The evil Santa from Santa's Slay

Former WWE phenomenon Goldberg donned the red hat and coat for this high budget, lowbrow slasher comedy about Santa's evil side. It seems the Santa we all know and love is just a harsh rouse that keeps the evil Satan (Santa, Satan—how could we BE so blind?!?) in check. Unfortunately, the clause on Claus' contract has expired and the not-so-jolly one goes on a Christmas murder spree in which he punctuates each kill with more groan-worthy puns than a Norm Crosby special co-hosted by Charlie Manson.

2. The evil serial killer Santa from Silent Night, Deadly Night and Silent Night, Deadly Night 2

Killer Santa Claus movies are a dime a dozen these days, but back in the early 1980s, the concept was fairly new, and this Christmas slay fest got a lot of attention when it hit the theaters. The antagonist, Billy, played by soap opera star Robert Brian Wilson, witnesses his parents being murdered by someone dressed as Santa. When he grows up, he kills people in the same costume in all sorts of festive ways (impaling horny teens with reindeer antlers, decapitating a bully as he sleds down a hill, the usual). The film caused quite a stir and even boycotts, but film critic Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert told parents to beware for a much different reason: It stinks.

The sequel didn't fare much better, but it did feature perhaps the strangest kill-line in movie history:

3. The evil escaped lunatic dressed as Santa from Tales from the Crypt

The pilot episode of HBO's long-running horror serial featured a tale of holiday horror taken straight from the pages of William M. Gaines' EC comic The Vault of Horror. "And All Through the House" tells the twisted story of a woman who has just murdered her husband on the same night a homicidal mental patient has escaped a local hospital dressed as Santa. In the climatic final scene, the woman's little girl lets the killer in the house, believing him to be Santa. It ends with a long and ridiculous scream from the woman realizing she's about to be chopped like a moist fruitcake (assuming that fruitcake is moist; I've never had the guts to try one). The ridiculously long and loud screaming was a stage direction from Gaines himself, who appeared on the set along with director Robert Zemeckis.

4. The evil robot Santa from Futurama

In the future, the Friendly Robot Company (not to be confused Mom's Friendly Robot Company) built a robotic Santa that could do the same work as Santa on Christmas, but also improve on Santa by existing. Unfortunately, the software used to help Robot Santa judge who is naughty and nice wasn't specific enough, so he not only judges everyone as naughty, but punishes them with everything from mean guard dogs that bark "Jingle Bells" to his "tow missile." The voice of Robot Santa was first provided by John Goodman, but John DiMaggio, voice of lovable ol' Bender, took over for Goodman in the subsequent episodes.

Futurama Weeknights, 9p/8c
Stopping Robot Santa
www.comedycentral.com
Joke of the Day Stand-Up Comedy Free Online Games

5. The evil alien band disguised as Santa from Doctor Who

Yes, Virginia, it seems that not even a crazy science-fiction epic like Doctor Who is exempt from the TV Christmas special requirement. The 2005 reincarnation starring David Tennant in his first full episode as the good doctor takes place just before Christmas, as the Tardis crash lands in London. Since he has just undergone regeneration and needs time to rest, Rose and Mickey go shopping and are attacked by a band of instrument-toting aliens dressed as Santas known as the Sycorax who aim to control the human race, just like every other alien race that invades the Earth. Seriously, did every non-Earth race of beings have a meeting and decide they each needed to try to take over the Earth one at a time?

6. The evil self-cloning Santa from The Tick

We know. Santa already has millions of clones posted in shopping malls and Christmas villages all over the world so he can keep a better eye on us and learn what we want for Christmas. (He even makes them bathe in gin every morning just to throw us off his tracks.) This Santa, however, can actually clone himself—and he's evil. A criminal dressed as Santa, nicknamed "Multiple Santa," realizes he can harness the power of electricity to create a never-ending army of himself, which just happen to be obedient Santas that only have enough intelligence to follow orders and utter "Ho" as a language. When he hooks himself to the local power supply, he causes a "Santalanche."

7. The criminal who stabs Nicholas Angel dressed as Father Christmas from Hot Fuzz

This evil Santa who stabbed Officer Nicholas Angel in the hand in the opening scene barely had two seconds of screen time in Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's second entry in their Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy. But the classic beard and hat do a good job hiding director Peter Jackson as the evil fat man behind the blade. The opening sequence also features fellow British director Garth Jennings, the man behind the big screen remake of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the sleeper hit Son of Rambow, as the armed man in the SWAT team raid. (The Santa violence in this video is a bit graphic.)

Danny Gallagher is a freelance writer, reporter and humorist living in Texas. He can be found on the web at dannygallagher.net and on Twitter.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Library of Congress
war
arrow
10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
Original image
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.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

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.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

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.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

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.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

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.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

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.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

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.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

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.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

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.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

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.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

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

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.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES