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11 Christmas Songs That Never Really Took Off

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Though artists from Mariah Carey to Insane Clown Posse release holiday singles, very few of those songs make it to holiday playlists year after year. Here are just a few of the more interesting Christmas songs released by some names you’ll be familiar with. Be sure to let us know if you look forward to one of these songs every year.

1. “Heavy Metal Christmas,” Twisted Sister. Would you believe Twisted Sister didn’t release their first holiday album until 2006? (Yeah, I believed it too.) The whole album is made up of classic Christmas songs with a Twisted Sister twist. “Heavy Metal Christmas” is a spin on “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but instead of partridges, pear trees and pipers, the gifts are pentagrams, platforms and spandex pants.



2. "All I Want for Christmas Is a Real Good Tan,” Kenny Chesney. Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the musical stylings of Mr. Chesney is probably not too surprised by this one.



3. “Back Door Santa,” various artists. The song was written by Clarence Carter, but the most famous part of the tune is definitely the horn part sampled by Run D.M.C. in “Christmas in Hollis.” The full song has been covered by the Black Crowes and Bon Jovi, but it’s safe to say you’re probably not going to hear it blaring over the loudspeaker at your favorite big box store this year.



4. “Father Christmas,” The Kinks. In 1977, the Kinks told the sorry tale of a Santa Claus beaten black and blue by a gang of poor kids. All they want for Christmas is cash, jobs for their daddies and machine guns to “scare” the kids down the street.



5. "Kentucky Homemade Christmas,” Kenny Rogers. This came from Kenny’s first holiday album, Christmas, released in 1981.



6. “Ho! Ho! Ho! Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?” Elton John. This was the B-side to a more popular Elton John song called “Step Into Christmas.” With lyrics like “There’s a pair of large sized Wellies coming down my flue and the smell of burning rubber, oh, is filling up the room,” it’s slightly less warm and fuzzy than the A-side.



7. "Cherry Cherry Christmas,” Neil Diamond. His fans were surely thrilled when Neil wished his listeners a “Cherry Christmas” instead of “Merry Christmas” on his 2009 holiday album. It fills me with great glee to think of a crazed Diamondhead closing out their annual holiday newsletter with “Cherry Christmas! Love, Anne, Michael and Rosie the dog.”



8. “Christmas Time (Is Here Again),” The Beatles. Even The Beatles have a Christmas song that didn't take off. Well, to be fair, it never even made it out of the gate. The song was recorded in 1966 and 1967, but it wasn’t officially released until 1995, when it showed up as a B-side to "Free as a Bird."



9. “Don’t Shoot Me Santa,” the Killers. This one makes my yearly playlist. In fact, I never take it out of rotation. But a song about a Santa who kidnaps the kids on the naughty list and shoots them is bound to get limited airplay.



10. “Christmas Tree,” Lady Gaga featuring Space Cowboy. Back in 2008, before Gaga had quite as many Little Monsters as she does now, she did a little Christmas ditty that’s... well, in her own words: "'Christmas Tree' is about the spirit of celebrating the most joyous holiday and I'll tell you why: because Christmas is the holiday that most makes boys and girls feel randy."



11. “Early Christmas Morning,” Cyndi Lauper. Haven’t heard this one? Not many people have: it was only officially released in Japan, though it’s since surfaced on some compilation albums in the U.K. and Canada.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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