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The Haunted Hospital

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Waverly Hills Sanatorium has been a TB hospital, a nursing home, a failed religious monument, and now a paranormal investigation site.

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Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky opened in 1910 to treat tuberculosis patients. In 1911, the new City Hospital relocated all of their TB cases to Waverly Hills, which had erected tents on the grounds to accomodate the overflow. Buildings were added to the institution in 1912, 1916, and 1926. A dedicated staff worked with thousands of TB patients, often contracting the disease themselves. After World War II, the need for a TB sanatorium waned until the hospital closed in 1961.

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Estimates vary, and records have been destroyed, but there may have been as many as 64,000 deaths at Waverly Sanatorium. Tuberculosis, also known as consumption, or "the white plague", had a high mortality rate before streptomycin was introduced as a treatment in 1943. The most common treatment at the time was sunlight, fresh air, and nutritious food. Surgical intervention, including removal of ribs and/or parts of the lungs, was reserved for patients close to death. However, many people owe their lives to the care they received at Waverly Hills.

More Waverly Hills haunted history, after the jump.

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There is an underground tunnel from the sanatorium to the bottom of the hill. Originally a heating duct, this tunnel was also used by the staff to climb the hill in bad weather. During the TB years, this tunnel was also used to transport the dead, so they wouldn't be seen by other patients. The tunnel, also known as "the body chute", was serviced by a winch which hauled supplies up the hill and lowered gurneys with bodies down to the bottom. The tunnel is supposed to be haunted by those who made their last journey through it.

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The tunnel was the subject of the 2005 movie The Death Tunnel. In the film, five college girls fulfill an initiation rite by spending the night in the haunted institution. You can imagine what follows. A documentary named Spooked was also made during the filming of The Death Tunnel.

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There have been reported ghost sightings in Room 502 at the sanatorium, particularly the ghost of a nurse in uniform. There are two legends concerning the room: a nurse committed suicide by jumping out the window, and a nurse who hanged herself in room 502 because she was single and pregnant. Neither story is documented, but neither is completely discounted. Other accounts tell of ghostly appearances by a little girl named Mary and a little boy named Bobby in other areas of the hospital.

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The institution was reopened as WoodHaven Medical Services, a geriatrics hospital in 1962, but closed in 1980 under allegations of patient abuse. Robert Alberhasky bought the property in 1996 with plans to to erect the world's tallest statue of Jesus and a religious center. The statue would have been based on the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, only 20 feet taller. When the plans fell through due to funding problems, Alberhasky, upset that the remaining building was protected by the Historical Register, tried to have the building condemned. He went as far as using a bulldozer to undermine the foundation, but the building refused to collapse.

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Tina and Charlie Mattingly bought the property in 2001 with the aim of completely restoring it. The hospital was deteriorating badly when they took possession. In the first few years of possession, the Mattinglys removed the asbestos and replaced 100 broken windows. Haunted tours helped raise money for the restoration project, which will eventually include a bed-and-breakfast.

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Waverly Hills became known outside of the area when the TV series The Scariest Places on Earth profiled the institution in 2001. Since then, it has become a popular destination for paranormal investigators. Even those who don't believe in ghosts enjoy the site for its history, its controversy, or for its popularity. According to the Waverly Hills Historical Society, guided tours and overnight stays are booked up for the rest of this year. If you want to visit, make your plans early!

The TV show Ghost Hunters did a program on Waverly Hills in March of 2006. The SciFi Channel series returned to Kentucky and did a live broadcast on Halloween night.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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