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9 of the Undead from Around the World

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Many cultures have tales of the undead, zombies, vampires, and other creatures who rise from the grave to cause mischief among the living. Many will drink your blood or eat your flesh. We looked at eight of these monsters in a previous post; here are nine more to feed your nightmares.

1. Pontianak (Indonesia)

The pontianak is a vampire of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It is also called matianak or kuntilanak, depending on the language. The details vary a bit from country to country, but the vampire/ghost is a woman who died in childbirth. A pontianak can also be produced from a stillborn infant, or someone who is attacked by a pontianak. This monster tears open a victim's stomach and eats the entrails as well as sucking the blood, and is particularly drawn to newborn babies and women in the process of giving birth. A pontianak is disabled if you drive a nail through her neck, which turns her back into the person she once was -as long as the nail stays in place! To prevent a corpse from becoming a pontianak, put glass beads in the mouth to prevent shrieking and an egg in the armpit to prevent flying.

2. Gashadokuro (Japan)

The gashadokuro is a 90-foot tall skeleton formed of the bones of many people who starved to death. If it sees a living human, it will give chase and bite the victim's head off! This monster appears in many modern video games.

3. Soucouyant (Caribbean)

A soucouyant is a vampire being in Trinidad, the Dominican Republic, and Guadeloupe, and is known in other Caribbean nations by different names. The soucouyant is an old woman by day, but at night sheds her skin and turns into a ball of fire to travel. A soucouyant is produced not by dying, but by making a deal with the devil. Like a vampire, she will suck a victim's blood dry. If you can find where she left her skin, put salt into it and she'll be destroyed. A soucouyant must pick up any spilled rice she sees, one grain at a time, so spread some around to identify who she is. The legend is sometimes illustrated as a Carnival costume, as you can see.

4. Gjenganger (Norway)

The Norwegian zombie known as the gjenganger comes back from the dead because he left something undone in life, was murdered, or committed suicide. The gjenganger does not drink blood, but 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.

5. Dearg-due (Ireland)

The dearg-due translates to English as "blood drinker". This Irish demon originated with a girl named Dearg Due who was forced into an arranged marriage even though she loved another man. She committed suicide, then rose from her grave to kill her father and husband as revenge. A dearg-due will seduce men and then suck their blood. To prevent a dead woman from rising as a dearg-due, you must pile heavy stones on the grave. Image by Flickr user anaxila.

6. Manananggal (Philippines)

The manananggal of the Philippines combines some features of the pontianak and the soucouyant. 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. The Malaysian version of this vampire is called a penanggalan, who separates at the neck and flies with her entrails dragging behind her. Image by DeviantART member mrrogers4566.

7. Adze (Ghana and Togo)

The adze is an African vampire in the legends of the Ewe people of Ghana and Togo. It takes the form of a firefy, but if you capture one, it will revert to human appearance. This can be dangerous in itself, because in its human form the adze may attack and eat your organs, but it can be defeated. However, in the insect form, the adze will suck your blood while you sleep and spread disease, which is a possible explanation for malarial outbreaks. Its preferred victims are young children. The victim of an adze becomes a witch who is possessed by the adze' spirit.

8. Baobhan-sith (Scotland)

The Scottish baobhan-sith is a female fairy who rests in a coffin during the day and roams the forest at night to prey upon wandering men, often hunters, to drink their blood. They always wear a green dress, and in some stories appear to be beautiful women except for the animal hooves hidden under their dress. A Baobhan-sith can also change into the form of a wolf. They don't bite, but use their long talons to pierce their victims and then drink the blood. A male victim will die, but a female victim will herself become a baobhan-sith.

9. Strigoi Mort (Romania)

Strigoi are vampires. 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.

See also: 8 of the Undead from Around the World and Our Favorite Vampires

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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]