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5 Horror Movies Starring Inanimate Objects

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The soul of a horror movie lies in the strength of the monster. Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lecter—these icons endure because they got under our skin and stayed there long after the lights went up. But what happens when your movie monster has no soul? What if it can't talk, move, growl, bare teeth or intimidate in any way? What if your monster couldn't do anything except wait for clumsy victims to fall into its deadly, not remotely scary, grasp?

You get these movies.

1. The Lift

The Monster: an elevator (or what the British call a “lift”)
Why It Isn’t Scary: Successful horror movies select an antagonist that people already naturally fear: spiders; sharks; mute, unstoppable hockey enthusiasts. So somewhere along inception, the idea for The Lift must have been inspired by the writer’s fear of elevators. A fear born of…standing close to strangers? B.O.? Really, I don’t know. Escalators are much scarier; I would pay money to see a murder mystery that takes place exclusively on an escalator.


For whatever reason, someone out there is deathly afraid of elevators and they were able to utterly fail at translating that fear to the screen.


The film’s tagline, which reads, “Take the stairs, take the stairs…for god's sake take the stairs!!” sure makes a good point. After just one guy got decapitated (re: Haunted!) by the elevator, you would think people might say, “I could use the exercise.” Instead, fools keep feeding themselves to the demonic lift. If we as a species are so lazy we’d rather take the possessed elevator than huff our way up a couple flights of stairs, maybe we deserve to die.

Nonetheless, The Lift got a remake for American sensibilities with the much more innuendo-y title The Shaft. It even nabbed Naomi Watts in a role she hoped you’d never discover.

2. The Refrigerator

The Monster: A refrigerator (truth in advertising!)
Why It Isn’t Scary: Some monsters get the short end of the stick. There are only so many scares you can get out of filming a Frigidaire with a smoke machine and a sultry red light.


The pitch meeting for The Refrigerator went exactly like this:


Scene: Some Dude’s Dumpy Studio Apt.
Guy: Let’s make a horror movie! How much money do we have in the budget?
Guy 2: Uh, twelve dollars.
Guy: Ugg, we can’t even afford to film outside this apartment.
Guy 3: (looking in refrigerator) Man, do you ever clean this out?! Moldy cheese, ancient Chinese food—this refrigerator is a nightmare!
Guy: EUREKA!

But how does one make a big box that keeps food cold scary? The fridge contains a portal to hell, you say? Of course it does, what else? It could kill you by…letting the milk go bad, I guess. Also, the refrigerator mind controls the husband in the story because it’s an evil fridge and that’s what evil fridges do.

After all this mind control and menacing motionlessness, the couple living with the disturbed fridge get help from a plumber who visits our young couple’s apartment to explain the whole “your fridge is a portal to hell” thing. Mr. Plumber tells the couple the Devil himself is in control of the refrigerator, proving the Devil needs to start dating again because he has way too much time on his hands if he’s manipulating evil refrigerators on Saturday night.

We'll give them this: the tagline is totally rad. “No Survivors. Only Leftovers.” At least we know the tagline writer earned his paycheck.

3. Death Bed...The Bed That Eats! (actual full title)

The Monster: A bed
Why It Isn’t Scary: Oh Death Bed, such surprises you hold in store! While any of us can imagine a movie about a bed that eats people (pretty pedestrian, really), no one could possibly imagine a film as tediously dull and sluggish as you.


Now if you were a Death Bed, how would you lure your prey? By sitting in a creepy, abandoned castle where horny teens inexplicably keep going to rut, in spite of that pungent death smell—that’s how. It’s very romantic. How would those dumb kids ever notice they’re being very slowly digested? Love is blind after all, especially blind to DEATH BEDS! And when you can’t get a couple crazy kids to make out on your face, you could always spurt out some yellow foam that moves at the speed of honey, seeking new victims.


After Jaws, everyone was afraid to go back in the water, and what Jaws did for the ocean, Death Bed does for yellow foam. You’ll never be able to wash the dishes the same way again.

4. The Mangler

The Monster: A shirt-folding machine


Why It Isn’t Scary: Now what you have right here is just an effective PSA for workplace safety. The only way a possessed shirt-folding machine can kill you is if you literally feed yourself to said shirt folding machine. That’s just common sense. By my count, the Mangler only takes out a few pointless lives. That’s a better safety record than many real world workplaces. Far more scary industrial machines exist in the real world, like metal presses and lumber claws. Did you know 118 lumberjacks per 100,000 die every year? And lumberjacking equipment isn't even demonically possessed.

5. Maximum Overdrive

The Monster: A vending machine
Why It Isn’t Scary: This is a bit of a cheat; in Maximum Overdrive, every mechanical object comes to life with homicidal blood lust. While the movie is ridiculous as a whole, the vending machine scene is the apex, because “death by blunt crotch trauma” is just too great. How would a vending machine with a vendetta take someone out? By launching soda cans with hypersonic speed at your groin, obviously.

Interesting Note: Maximum Overdrive was Stephen King’s first and only trip in the director’s chair. See, Stephen King doesn’t like how many of his movies get made, as he outlines rather explicitly in this exquisitely bad trailer for the movie.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqz2rejJS6M

Still gripping undying disdain for Stanley Kubrick’s take on The Shining, King proclaimed to make a horror movie himself to show the world how you really make a scary film. The scariest element of Maximum Overdrive is all the lady mullets.

Follow @ColeGamble on Twitter.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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