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7 Spooky Bookies for Seasonally Appropriate Bibliophilia

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A question to the mental_floss editorial team: What Scary Book Haunts You To This Day?

mental_floss magazine editorial director Ethan Trex appreciates both the creepiness and the wit of The Green Man by Kingsley Amis.

The Green Man by Kingsley Amis is my favorite spooky novel, in part because it's also incredibly funny. Amis' descriptions of life around a haunted British inn and the hard-drinking exploits of its owner can be terrifying, but the dialogue and situations are laden with the writer's trademark wit and appreciation of absurdity. How can you not love the story in which the antagonist is a monster made of trees? Even though I read it as an adult, it still has me just a little nervous any time I'm alone in the woods.” Buy it now, if you dare!

For younger (but super brave) audiences, mentalfloss.com deputy editor Erin McCarthy can’t seem to shake the sheer spookiness of Scary Stories to Tell In The Dark by Alvin Schwartz.

“As a kid, I loved being scared, and when I was in elementary school, no books did it better than the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. I would frequently check them out of the library and read them on the bus home, after I was done my homework and under the covers at night. Then, when I was too terrified to read any more, I would put them down and try to sleep. (The key word is try.) Alvin Schwartz's takes on classic scary stories haunt me to this day. Among my favorites: 'The Red Spot,' 'The White Wolf,' 'High Beams,' 'Cat in the Shopping Bag,' 'The Little Black Dog,' 'Wonderful Sausage,' and, OK, all of them.” But it now, if you dare!

More For Your Little Boys and Ghouls With These Fun, Monstrous Parodies:

For those who enjoyed: Try this spooky version:
Madeline features: Frankenstein features:
Twelve little girls in two straight lines Twelve ugly monsters in two straight lines
Little girls who were sometimes sad Monsters who tried to devour your dad
Miss Clavel Miss Devel
An emergency appendectomy An emergency cranial replacement
A tummy scar Some neck screws
For those who enjoyed:

Try this spooky version:
The Runaway Bunny features: The Runaway Mummy features:
A little bunny A little mummy
A trout and a fisherman A serpent and a sea monster
A crocus and a gardener A revenous plant and a monstrous gorilla
A carrot treat A loving, rotten mummy cuddle

And In Spooky Self-Help:

How to Survive a Horror Movie by Seth Grahame-Smith

This book offers sage advice for horror-movie survival. The author starts with advice on determining whether you are in a horror movie and, if so, what kind of horror movie is it (a slasher flick, one with a satanic bent, an onslaught of the undead or, oh no, gasp, a sequel)?  He then lays out the seven deadly sins of horror movie behavior (doubt, machismo, independence, and curiosity, to name a few). The book goes on to offer more specific survival advice given particular horrific scenarios like “What to Do If You Did Something Last Summer,” “What to Do When An Evil Vehicle Wants You Dead,” “How to Tell If You’ve Been Dead Since the Beginning of the Movie” and “What to Do If Your Corn Has Children In It.” A foreword by Wes Craven serves as an apology from the mastermind behind so many horror movies for the many fictional lives he’s cut short—from buxom babysitters, to doubting cops, to well-intentioned boyfriends. Buy it now, if you dare!

The Monster Hunter’s Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Saving Mankind from Vampires, Zombies, Hellhounds and Other Mythical Beasts by Ibrahim S. Amin

A critical reference book for hunters of mythical creatures of any kind, this book presents descriptions, illustrations and killing methods for 30 creatures you may encounter on your many mythical quests.

 Did you know, for example, that…

+ Centaurs are highly vulnerable to flank attacks?

+ To destroy an attacking mummy, fire is likely your best choice—but, due to their slow, lumbering pace, you might also elect to simply walk briskly away?

+ A gorgon’s snake hair and tusks are not to be feared nearly as much as her petrifying stare?

+ Should you encounter a hellhound like Cerberus, you may elect to capture and domesticate the beast rather than destroy him?

In Part II of this display-worthy, hardback tome, the author introduces readers to the little-known field of cryptohoplology, the study of weapons and armor considered by the world at large to be mythical, and includes entries on such weaponry as Aeneas’s Arms and Armor, Excalibur, Hades’ Helmet and the Spear of Destiny. Buy it now, if you dare!

The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead by Scott Kenemore

Who knew that one could learn so much about living from the living dead? No, this book is not a manual on brain-eating and graveyard landscaping but, rather, gleans more general advice for good living based on the 24 habits of highly-effective zombies, advise such as:

+ “Be Adaptable.” Shoot, zombies had to adapt to a stranger set of circumstances than any you’re facing when their decaying corpses were reanimated.

+ “Slow Down! (You Move Too Fast).” The distinct “ponderous tread” of a zombie offers low-anxiety, blood-pressure-reducing benefits and also allows one to be more observant, analytical and opportunistic.

+ “Strength in Numbers.” Take a lesson from the evident ability zombies have to bond and join together into zombie armies. Ghosts, vampires, abominable snowmen and other spooky creatures just don’t seem to have the same team spirit. Buy it now, if you dare!

STORE.MENTALFLOSS.COM—Do NOT Abandon all hope, ye who enter here—Henceforth, all orders of $60 or more ship free! And be sure to follow the store on Twitter; we tweet fun stuff and sometimes give things away for nothin'.

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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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