CLOSE
Original image

10 Fake Photos of Hurricane Sandy That Went Viral

Original image

Originally published October 30, 2012.

Among the stunning photos of Hurricane Sandy, a number of fakes also went viral. Some helpful journalists have laid out ways to sniff out the fakes from the real thing, and others have turned to debunking the frauds themselves.

1. Storm Clouds Over Manhattan

Some of the photos making the rounds on Twitter are real, but have nothing to do with Sandy. This amazing view of a storm brewing over lower Manhattan, for example, is from an April 2011 tornado, captured on film byThe Wall Street Journal.

2. Flooded McDonald's

Also in the not-fake-but-not-Sandy category is this picture purporting to be from a hurricane-ravaged McDonald's in Virginia. It's not. In a case of life imitating art, the photo is from a 2009 installation/film called, appropriately enough, Flooded McDonald's.

3. Scuba Diver In The Subway

The bulk of the faux photos involve varying degree of skill with image-editing software like Photoshop. In this imaginative mash-up, a scuba diver explores the 14th Street-Union Square a Times Square subway stop in Manhattan.

4. Shark In Flood Waters, Part One

Sharks were well represented in the doctored flood photos from New York and New Jersey. This photo, from Kevin McCarty, of actually flooded Brigantine, N.J., fooled a lot of people on Twitter but mostly earned eye-rolls from his friends on Facebook.

5. Shark In Flood Waters, Part Two

This frequently-retweeted photo is also from Brigantine. A Twitter user named Tom Phillips found the shark used in this Photoshop job in a Google image search.

6. Shark In Flood Waters, Part Three

The final shark photo, also purportedly from a street in New Jersey, not only isn't real, it isn't new. It first made the rounds after 2011's Hurricane Irene, when it (slightly more plausibly) pretended to be in the streets of Puerto Rico.

7. Storm Clouds Behind The Statue Of Liberty

This impressive-looking storm gathering behind the Statue of Liberty is actually from 2004, in Nebraska, captured on film by storm chaser and photographer Mike Hollingshead.

8. Not News You Can Use


In this photo, Lady Liberty looks like she's under attack from Sandy's massive storm surge, but really is being washed away by the Hollywood special effects team behind 2004's The Day After Tomorrow. In a minor bit of post-screengrab doctoring, the image "has had a New York TV logo superimposed on it to fool people," says The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal.

9. Lady Liberty Hides

Given how eager Twitter users have been to sic Sandy on her, Lady Liberty could be excused for trying to lay low, as in this not-even-trying-to-fool-you Photoshop job.

10. Statue of Liberty + Kitty

Like No. 9, this one didn't take any sophisticated sleuthing to debunk. The Atlantic's Madrigal scores it "fake (but awesome)."

More From The Week...

Life after Sandy: How New York is preparing for the next superstorm
*
Hurricane Sandy: Incredible Photos Of The Damage
*
The Web's Best Visualizations of Hurricane Sandy

* * * * *
Sources: The AgeAtlanticChicago TribuneHoax-Slayer, Mashable,NBC Today, Tumblr, Wall Street Journal, WPIX 11

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
Original image
iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES