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6 Restless Corpses: Heads of State Edition

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Public Domain

The reason for exhuming, mummifying, or otherwise displaying the deceased bodies of heads of state is to either 1. continue to pay your respects, or 2. to make sure they are really dead, depending on your end of the political spectrum.

Eva Perón

Eva Perón was first lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death from cancer in 1952. A monument was to be built where her body could be displayed, but when president Jaun Perón was overthrown by the military, he fled the country without making arrangements for his wife's corpse. Evita's body was missing for 16 years, until the military  government revealed she had been buried in Italy. In 1971, Juan Perón had her body exhumed and delivered to his new home in Spain. He returned to Argentina in 1973 to begin his third term as president. After his death in 1974, his successor (and third wife) Isabel Perón arranged for Eva's coffin to be brought back to Argentina, where she was displayed beside her husband's body for a time. She was finally buried in Buenos Aires in an extremely secure tomb to guard against further "disappearance".

Juan Perón's grave was desecrated in 1987, and his hands were stolen.

Nicholas II

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The last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II was executed in Yekaterinburg in 1918, a year after he abdicated the throne. His wife, four daughters, son, the family's doctor, and three servants were also killed. The bodies were hidden in a mine shaft, then later taken to the woods and dismembered. Nine skeletons were found in 1991. DNA tests revealed that five were of the same family, and four were unrelated. The related bones were found to match DNA of various royal families that were related to Nicholas or his wife Alexandra, leading scientists to conclude they belonged to the tsar and his family. The bones of the Romanov family were reburied in July of 1998 in the Saint Catherine Cathedral in St. Petersburg, despite reservations from the church, as skeptical officials cited the two missing children.  The remains of what is believed to be the other two childrenwere found in 2007.

Ho Chi Minh

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Ho Chi Minh was the leader of North Vietnam for 24 years, as prime minister and then president until his death in 1969. He had wished to be cremated, but his body was instead put on display in a mausoleum in Hanoi. The Soviet Union, which had founder Vladimir Lenin on display, made a gift of a crystal coffin, and lent technological expertise in the embalming procedure. "Uncle Ho's" tombis open for visitors every day.

Mao Zedong

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Mao Zedong led the Communist party in China and was the leader of the People's Republic of China from 1949 until his death in 1976. Like Ho Chi Minh before him, he wished to be cremated, but was instead placed on public display. A mausoleumwas built right after his death at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, on the site that was once the main gate of the Imperial City. Since Mao's internment, there have been at least three vandalism attempts, all thwarted by police.

Ferdinand Marcos

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Ferdinand Marcos was president of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. He died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. His body was refused entry into the Philippines, so his wife Imelda arranged to keep it in refrigeration at a mausoleum in Oahu. In 2001, Marcos' corpse was allowed to return to the Philippines during the administration of president Fidel Ramos, who is distantly related to Marcos. However, plans to bury the former president anywhere in the Philippines brought instant protest. Imelda Marcos refuses to bury her husband's body until he is given full military honors, so he remains in a glass-topped coffin, on display at the Marco's family mausoleum in the village of Batac.

Abraham Lincoln

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President Abraham Lincoln's coffin was moved 17 times after his funeral, mostly for construction and renovation of his tomb in Illinois, and the coffin itself was opened five times! A gang of counterfeiters attempted to take Lincoln's body from his tomb in 1876. The plan was to hold the corpse for ransom, but they only moved the coffin a few inches when they were interrupted by police who were alerted by a Secret Service agent who had infiltrated the gang. Lincoln's coffin was removed from the tomb during reconstruction of the tomb in 1900-1901. Before the reburial, the coffin was opened for witnesses. 23 people took a lookand agreed that the body, with its still-recognizable features, was indeed Abraham Lincoln. Afterward, Lincoln's coffin was buried for the final time, and covered with 4,000 pounds of concrete.

Further reading: 6 Restless Corpses and 6 More Restless Corpses

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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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