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11 Holiday Carols from Around the World

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Ready or not, the holidays are here, and from now until New Year's your ears will be filled with the glorious "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Silent Night," and "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" tunes. To see how the rest of the world pa-rum-pum-pum-pums, tune into one of these global holiday carols for a toe-tapping, enjoyable change of pace.

1. "PASKO NA NAMAN" // PHILIPPINES

This popular Filipino Christmas sing-a-long, translated as "It’s Christmas once again," shares the same sentiment we all have this time of year: How the heck are we already back here?

"It’s Christmas again
How fast time flies
Christmases past
Seem just like yesterday"

2. "PŮJDEM SPOLU DO BETLÉMA" // CZECH REPUBLIC

The Czech Republic’s holiday anthem—"Půjdem spolu do Betléma"—will have all the children up and dancing right from the beginning. The lyrics start out with a call to visit Bethlehem, before the narrator entirely shifts gears, ordering members of the band to get movin' with their instruments.

"And you Johnny, let your pipe sound,
Dudli, tudli, dudli, da!

Start, oh, Jimmy, on your bagpipe,
Dudaj, dudaj, dudaj, da!

And you Nicol on the violin,
Hudli, tydli, hudli, da!

And you Lawrence, let your bass play,
Rumrum, rumrum, rumrum, da!"

3. "EN ETSI VALTAA LOISTOA" // FINLAND

As one of Finland’s most popular holiday songs, "En Etsi Valtaa Loistoa"—translated, "Give me no splendor, gold, or pomp"—reminds listeners that Christmas goes well beyond material desires. The song was composed by the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1904, and remains much more of a church-type hymn than lighthearted carol.

4. "AISIM MERGOS, AISIM BERNAI KALĖDA" // LITHUANIA

This Lithuanian carol will put the party back in your holidays. Translated as "Let’s go girls, let’s go guys," this song is all about living the good life. It tells the age-old tale of strong workers, chasing dogs, drinking booze, and … drinking more booze. We'll toast to that.

"Those of you who are quick to shew away the dogs
Those of you who are strong to carry the sacks
Those of you who are brave to ask for bread
The lassies are drinking sweet mead
The women are drinking beer
The men are drinking spirits."

5. "BETHLEHEM'S STJÄRNA" // SWEDEN

Translated as "The Star of Bethlehem," this popular Swedish carol is about—you guessed it—that oh-so-famous holiday star. The peaceful song paints a beautiful picture of Christmas night in Bethlehem, with nods to nature and the night sky along the way.

"Night (reigns) over the Land of Juda, and (likewise) over Zion.
At the western horizon, Orion is dying down.
The tired shepherd who sleeps; the peacefully slumbering child:
wake up to a wondrous chorus of voices,
(and) behold a gloriously bright star in the East."

6. "LES ANGES DANS NOS CAMPAGNES" // FRANCE

We’ve all heard—and likely sung—"Angels We Have Heard On High," but did you know this holiday playlist staple actually originated in France? There’s something mesmerizing (or shall we say glooorious) about this carol sung in French.

7. "AMEZALIWA" // EAST AFRICA

This beautiful African hymn, sung in Kiswahili, celebrates the birth of Jesus with an uplifting, traditional rhythm. While it originated in East Africa, choirs across the world perform this song around the holidays—tribal drum, kangas, and all.

8. "В лесу родилась ёлочка" // RUSSIA

"The Forest Raised a Christmas Tree" is an agnostic, popular Russian carol that explains how the forest helps its fir tree prepare for Christmas. The lyrics, focused entirely on this tree and its surrounding wilderness, will strike a particular chord with nature lovers who spend the majority of their holidays outdoors.

"The forest raised a Christmas tree,
''Twas silent and serene
In winter and in summer
It was slender and so green

Some sleigh bells rang throughout the woods,
The snow was crisp and clean,
A horsey brought a forester
To hew that tree so green."

9. "O TANNENBAUM" // GERMANY

"O Tannenbaum," which we now associate with "O Christmas Tree," actually got its start in 1824 as a German folk song about the fir tree. As the Christmas tree tradition grew, "O Tannenbaum" became associated with the holiday season, and morphed from a lively tune into the Christmas carol Germans (and the rest of us) know and love today.

10. "MI BURRITO SABANERO" // VENEZUELA

Sure, "Feliz Navidad" may have the popular vote when it comes to Spanish-language Christmas carols, but "Mi Burrito Sabanero" gives the classic song a run for its money. While it’s not a Christmas song about a burrito (although we’d be down for that, too), "Mi Burrito Sabanero" wins for cute factor because it’s almost entirely about a donkey. Yes, a donkey—and this little donkey and its owner are on their way to Bethlehem. Can we join?

"With my little donkey I go singing,
my little donkey goes trotting
With my little donkey I go singing,
my little donkey goes trotting
If they see me, if they see me
I'm on my way to Bethlehem."

11. "STICKY BEAK THE KIWI" // NEW ZEALAND

OK, if a donkey didn’t have enough cute factor for you, we’ll do you one better. "Sticky Beak the Kiwi" is a 1960s holiday carol highlighting how—when Santa arrives in New Zealand—this "bird from down under" will take charge of the sleigh. Oh and there’s mention of a platypus. And a kangaroo. And a wallaby. Yeah, Sticky Beak definitely takes the cake for cutest Christmas carol at the children's holiday concert.

"Lots of toys for girls and boys load the Christmas sleigh
He will take the starlight trail along the Milky Way.
Hear the laughing children as they shout aloud with glee:
'Sticky Beak, Sticky Beak, be sure to call on me.'

Now every little kiwi, and every kangaroo, too,
The wallaby, the weka, and the platypus and emu,
Have made themselves a Christmas tree with stars and shining bright,
So Sticky Beak will see the way to guide the sleigh tonight."

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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