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6 Not-So-Jolly Christmas Carols

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You can always tell when Christmas is just around the corner. The radio starts playing cheery holiday favorites like Nat King Cole's "Christmas Song" and Eartha Kitt's version of "Santa Baby." Bands of merry carolers wander the streets harmonizing Christmas classics like "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells." But there are some Christmas songs that don't get a lot of attention because they're dark, even by non-holiday song standards.

1. Weird Al Yankovic's "Christmas at Ground Zero"

Weird Al's first crack at a Christmas tune took a decidedly darker turn than one might expect from the king of pop music parodies. According to the liner notes in his first box set Permanent Record: Al in the Box, Yankovic's label had been dogging him to do a Christmas album ever since "Eat It" had turned him into a parody zeitgeist. So he came up with a Christmas song for his 1986 album Polka Party! that people might sing if they knew World War III was just around the corner. Apparently, some radio stations were so put off by the song's dark humor that they banned the album altogether.

2. Eric Idle's "F&^$ Christmas"

The most musical member of Monty Python (not counting Neil Innes, of course) also jumped on the anti-Christmas carol bandwagon in his solo career. During his "Greedy Bastard" tour, Erik Idle just came right around and said "F@#$ Christmas"—although he didn't use the grawlix to say the "F-word." He also spared no one or nothing involved with Christmas, with lyrics like "F#$% Santa," "F#*$ holly and f#*$ ivy and f#*$ all that mistletoe" and "F#$& Rudolph and his stupid f#*$& nose." So if you haven't figured it out by now, the song performed in the video has some very naughty words.

3. The Pet Shop Boys' "It Doesn't Often Snow at Christmas"

The electronic pop duo's stab at a Christmas song might have a happy beat, but its lyrics are anything but—especially at Christmas. Christopher Lowe and Neil Tennant's holiday tune bemoans all the usual complaints of a typical dysfunctional family trying to make it through another holiday, complete with "families fighting around a plastic tree" and "now it's all about shopping and how much things cost." Then it launches into a lyric loop that brings it home with "it doesn't often snow at Christmas, the way it's meant to do, but I'll still have a glow at Christmas, because I'll be with you."

4. Dwight Yoakam's "Santa Can't Stay"

Dwight Yoakam's Christmas song is probably what you'd expect a super sad country song to sound like: There are drunk husbands, presents being used as weapons, and good ol' fashioned heartbreak on Christmas Eve. The song's about a boy who learns that Santa won't be visiting because Momma told him to leave. Little Bobby notices "the plate where cookies still lay" and that "a car just like Dad's pulled out and drove away." It's so sad that it'll either break your heart or make you grow one big enough to break all over again.

5. The Arrogant Worms' "Christmas Sucks"

This Canadian comedy music trio saw something funny about the unquestioning worship of Christmas and how it implores us to give, give, give until we hurt, hurt, hurt. So they decided to give the Christmas hating Scrooges and the greedy gift-taking hoarders a song to show the seedy side of the holiday season. The song has a catchy chorus: "Christmas sucks, Christmas sucks, getting stuff is much more fun, you gotta look out for number one, Christmas sucks."

6. Spinal Tap's "Christmas with the Devil"

Spinal Tap members David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel, and Derek Smalls (played by Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer, respectively) also couldn't resist the music industry's trend of trying to cram a Christmas song into every band's repertoire. Instead, they crammed heavy metal's brazen love for the occult and faux-devil worship into a holiday song where lost souls in Hell are celebrating Christmas with Satan himself. There, "the sugar plums are rancid and the stockings are in flames" and "the rats ate all the presents and the reindeer ran away."

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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