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6 More Restless Corpses

Many people are so fascinated with earthly remains that they want to view them long after death. To some, it's a sign of devotion to the person who once inhabited the body. For others, it's just plain morbid curiosity. And for a few, it's something even stranger. More stories can be found in the previous post 6 Restless Corpses.

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Bernadette Soubirous is St. Bernadette of Lourdes. Her 18 visions led to the establishment of a chapel at the grotto in Lourdes, France, and her later sainthood. She died at age 35 in 1879 and was buried. Her body was exhumed three times, in 1909, 1919, and finally in 1925. The church declared her body to be "incorruptible", as it showed no signs of decomposition. The face was discolored, so a wax mask was added. St. Bernadette was canonized in 1933. She remains on display in a glass-topped coffin at the Chapel of St. Bernadette in Nevers, France. (image credit: PETF)

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Samuel P. Dinsmoor built the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas. He spent his life building the concrete compound adorned with statuary illustrating the Bible. It is open to the public as a tourist attraction, including the remains of Dinsmoor in a concrete coffin with a glass lid, where his body has been since his death in 1932. Dinsmoor prepared for his death to be a part of the attraction. He sold a double-exposed photograph of himself looking at his "corpse" as a postcard. The photo now hangs in his mausoleum.

Continue reading for more restless corpses. Some images may be disturbing to the sensitive.

Rosalia Lombardo died in Italy at the age of 2 and was interred in the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo. She has lain in a glass-topped coffin since 1920, showing little signs of decomposition, earning her the nickname "Sleeping Beauty". Some people believe that Rosalia's mummy opens and closes her eyes, which you can see here, but it's an optical illusion. The same cannot be said for the thousands of others on display in the catacombs. Although she has always been in her final resting place, she is included here because she is on view to so many visitors.
Sylvester is the nickname of the mummy of an unnamed man who died in the late 19th century from a gunshot wound and was preserved with arsenic. His body was retrieved from a dentist's attic in 1955. He is on display at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle. In 2001, Sylvester and his "companion" Sylvia were scanned at the University of Washington Medical Center. Although Sylvia was found to be quite desiccated, Sylvester is remarkably preserved. (image credit: Joe Mabel)

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Floyd Collins was a lifelong caver in Western Kentucky. He was trapped by falling rock that wedged his body inside Sand Cave in 1925, and he died two weeks later. Collins' life and death make a fascinating story, which continued after his death. Rescuers reached his body several days after he died and decided it was too dangerous to move him. Collins stayed in Sand Cave for two months until his brother and friends retrieved his body (pictured). He was buried on family land for two years, but after the homestead was sold, the new owner dug up Collin's body and exhibited it under glass inside Crystal Cave for tourists. The body was stolen in 1929 and found with a leg missing. Afterwards, the coffin was chained inside the cave. In 1961, the cave was purchased by the National Park Service as part of Mammoth Cave National Park. Collins' family had objected to his display in the cave for decades, and he was finally buried in a nearby cemetery in 1989, 64 years after his death. See more photographs here.

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Maria Elena Milagro "Helen" de Hoyos was a Cuban-American tuberculosis victim. She was only 21 when she died in 1931. At a hospital in Key West, she met a radiologist named Carl Tanzler (also known as Carl von Cosel) who was smitten with Hoyos. He treated her with various therapies and paid for her funeral and mausoleum, which he visited every night. In 1933, he retrieved Hoyos' corpse and took it to his home, where he lived with it for seven years, even sleeping with it in his bed. He made gradual repairs to the decomposing corpse, covering it with wax and plaster and wiring parts together as they separated. Hoyos' sister discovered Tanzler's secret in 1940. He was charged with grave tampering, but the statute of limitations had passed. Hoyos was reburied in an undisclosed location. Tanzler then built himself a wax effigy that resembled Hoyos, and lived with it in his home until his death in 1952. He wrote an autobiography that appeared in a pulp fiction periodical. You can see photographs of Hoyos at Wikipedia.

Further reading: 6 Restless Corpses and 6 Restless Corpses: Heads of State Edition.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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