Original image

6 Deaths That Were Greatly Exaggerated

Original image

Will we ever know the secrets that death holds? Maybe not, but this post is about six people who've come as verifiably close to returning from the dead as possible: those who were believed to be dead. Read on ... if you dare!

1. The Cast of Cannibal Holocaust

Getty Images

Still one of the most controversial films ever made, the 1980 Italian exploitation-fest Cannibal Holocaust depicted such realistic and horrifying violence that Italian authorities believed it was an actual snuff film. Ten days after its release, prints of Holocaust were confiscated and its director was arrested on suspicion of murder. Not helping matters much was the fact that the film's cast had signed agreements saying they would lay low for a full year after the film's release, fueling rumors that they were, in fact, slaughtered for the camera. Finally, facing life in prison, the director voided his actors' "no-media" contracts so they could come forward to clear his name.

2. Marcus Garvey

George Grantham Bain Collection, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

After suffering a stroke in 1940, black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey became incapacitated. Rumors began to circulate that he had died, and before Garvey could quell them, he ran across a premature obituary for himself in the Chicago Defender which described him as a man who died "broke, alone and unpopular." According to people close to Garvey, upon reading it he let out a loud moan and collapsed to the floor, where he suffered a second stroke. By the following morning, he was dead at fifty-three.

3. Things to do in Texas when you're dead

Bowman Gum, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In his sixteen-year career, major league relief pitcher Bill Henry played for the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, boasted 46 wins, and even pitched in the 1961 World Series. More surprising than the career the humble Texan never dreamed possible, however, was the news that he had died. In August 2007 the Lakeland, Florida Ledger reported that Henry had passed away at the ripe old age of 80, and the story was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed nationally. But Bill Henry didn't live in Lakeland, where he had supposedly died -- he lived (and still lives) in Deer Park, Texas. Once the Ledger got wind of the truth, a very strange story came to light: another man named Bill Henry, a salesman from Florida, had stolen the ball player's identity long ago, and for more than 20 years had been passing himself off as the retired major league pitcher. The fake Henry, who was 83 when he died, had fooled everybody -- including his wife -- who later said "I was married to somebody that I maybe didn't know." (How did the impostor explain the incorrect birthday listed on his baseball card? "A printing error," he insisted.) The man even gave lectures twice a year at a Florida college entitled "Baseball, Humor and Society." (Maybe it was a subtle reference to his humorous baseball-related prank on society?) After the matter was cleared up, however, the real Bill Henry harbored no ill feelings. "I just hoped maybe it helped him in his [sales] career," he said. (I'm not sure I'd be so nice about that kind of thing, myself -- though imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.)

4. The Not-Quite-Canonized Thomas a Kempis

Getty Images

Well-known medieval author-monk Thomas a Kempis, it is said, was accidentally buried alive in 1471. A most decidedly low-temperature dude in life -- he spent most of his time engaged with quiet devotional exercises and copying the Bible by hand -- he was apparently not so cool under pressure when it came to death. When he was exhumed some time later, scratch marks were found on the underside of the coffin, and splinters of wood under his fingernails. As if it wasn't bad enough to be buried alive, when the Church discovered the tragedy, they promptly shut down efforts to canonize Kempis as a saint. Their reasoning? "Surely no aspiring saint, finding himself so close to meeting his maker, would fight death in this way!" Talk about adding insult to being buried alive ...

5. Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Getty Images

In 1816, the writer heard his name mentioned in a hotel by a man reading a coroner's report in the newspaper, who remarked that "it was very extraordinary that Coleridge the poet should have hanged himself just after the success of his play, but he was always a strange mad fellow." Coleridge replied: "Indeed, sir, it is a most extraordinary thing that he should have hanged himself, be the subject of an inquest, and yet that he should at this moment be speaking to you." (Now that's what I call a killer comeback!) Turns out a man had been found hanging from a tree in Hyde Park -- an apparent suicide -- and the only identification he had was the name "S.T. Coleridge" written on the inside of the collar of his shirt. Coleridge thought the shirt had probably been stolen from him.

6. Hiroo Onoda, the soldier who wouldn't die

Getty Images

A Japanese soldier stationed in the Philippines during World War II, Hiroo Onoda was presumed dead after the Allies recaptured the country in 1945. But he and a few comrades had fled into the jungle to hide, and for 29 years, that's where he stayed. Unwilling to believe that the war had ended, he and his scrappy fellows continued to launch mini-attacks against Filipino citizens, killing dozens over the years. In 1959, he was declared legally dead in Japan, and by 1972, when the last of his compatriots were killed in gunfights with local forces, Onoda was finally alone. He stayed for two more years, until the Japanese government found Onoda's old commanding officer from the war -- he had become a bookseller many years before -- who was flown to the jungle, where he informed Onoda of the defeat of Japan in WWII and ordered him to lay down his arms. Lieutenant Onoda emerged from the jungle 29 years after the end of World War II, and accepted the commanding officer's order of surrender in his dress uniform and sword, with his Arisaka Type 99 rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition and several hand grenades. After the war, Onoda wrote a book about his experiences and started a nature camp for kids designed to teach them survival skills. (So far, all of his campers have returned alive.)

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]