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The World Ends Today: 7 Modern Doomsday Predictions that Didn't Pan Out

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For centuries, people have claimed to know when the world would end. Last Thursday, the House of Yahweh group from Texas announced that the end of the world was to begin June 12, 2008 (today). Not exactly the gift I had in mind for my 20th birthday. However, this isn't the first time the group has claimed the end was nigh. Yisrayl Hawkins (pictured) had previously predicted that nuclear war would start September 12, 2006. When the date passed with no war, it was instead called the start of a nine-month gestation period for the "nuclear baby," which would be born June 12, 2007. The group now claims that this is the year the end is coming. For real this time. While I cower in my basement waiting for the nukes, here are 6 more doomsday predictions from the past to consider.

Margaret Rowan, 1925

Out in California, a young girl named Margaret Rowan claimed the angel Gabriel had visited her and proclaimed the end of the world would be February 13th at midnight. The message was brief, but powerful. Robert Reidt, a housepainter from Long Island, was especially taken by the proclamation, buying advertising space to spread the word and promote a hilltop get-together for the faithful. People swarmed to the hillside at the appointed hour, lifting their arms skyward and shouting "Gabriel!" again and again. Midnight came and went, with no one taken to the heavens. Reidt calmed the crowd by rationalizing that Margaret's prediction must have been made for Pacific time, as she was in California, and the faithful waited another 3 hours. After the extra time still produced nothing, the throng dispersed, and Reidt blamed the failure on the "Satanic" flashbulbs of the reporters that had shown up.

Dorothy Martin, 1954

Around Christmastime in 1954, Dorothy claimed peapod-like ships able to hold 6-10 passengers each would descend upon Oak Park, IL, and take those who believed away. Members believed that after the ships left, a new sea would be formed, cleansing the area of human life and creating a new order. No metal would be allowed on board, so all zippers and metal clasps were removed. Anxious for first contact, the faithful took an invitation by phone to a party as a sign, returning dejectedly after discovering it was merely a prankster. However, once the appointed time came and went, the followers did not see the error of their ways. Instead, they became more fervent in their beliefs, with members of the group researching ancient South American civilizations in search of their space saviors. The reaction of the group interested psychologists, who used the situation as a chance to study cognitive dissonance and understand what happens when a group finds something they thought to be true is actually false.

Church Universal and Triumphant, 1990

Located in Montana, the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT) and spiritual leader Elizabeth Prophet became famous in the 1980s for claiming a nuclear holocaust would happen at the end of the decade. Members built shelters and stockpiled weapons and food in preparation for the predicted date of April 23, 1990. Nuclear war didn't occur, and disillusioned members left the group despite CUT's claims that their fervent prayer had prevented the disaster. Nowadays, membership has declined, staff and property have been downsized, and Elizabeth Prophet is in home care for Alzheimer's. The group still maintains the end is close.

Heaven's Gate, 1997

hglogo.gifHeaven's Gate is remembered for the mass suicide tied to the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997, but the group's motivation is just as interesting. Believing the Earth was to be "recycled" (wiped clean and rejuvenated) after the comet passed, the group saw their bodies as vessels to help them journey away from the planet, and true "suicide" to turn away from the chance to reach the "Next Level." Members of the Marshall Applewhite's group replaced their last names with an "-ody" at the end of their first names, and funded the group by providing professional web development services through their business Higher Source. Preparing for departure, members donned matching black shirts, sweatshirts, Nikes, and armbands reading "Heaven's Gate Away Team". Leaving a press release on their website to explain their reasoning, suicide was conducted in shifts as the members anticipated joining a ship hidden beyond the comet as it passed by Earth. The group's website remains intact, a lasting record of their time on Earth.

Richard Noone, 2000

In 1982, Richard Noone published his book 5/5/2000—Ice: The Ultimate Disaster, in which he claimed the Earth's crust would shift horribly, causing massive earthquakes and volcanoes and ultimately ushering in a new Ice Age. This shift, a result of the alignment of the planets, was supposed to have huge repercussions, with oceans becoming "maelstroms of death" and three-quarters of the human race being killed. Noone's claims didn't come true, and while he doesn't seem to have written any other books predicting more destruction, 5/5/2000's 1997 revised edition can be picked up at Amazon.com for a cent. Any takers?

UNARIUS (UNiversal ARticulate Interdimensional Understanding of Science), 2001

Founded in 1954 by Ernest and Ruth Norman (who went by Ioshanna and Uriel, respectively), UNARIUS is one of the more flamboyant groups in this list. Believing Earth to be a "kindergarten for spiritually debased souls," followers study a weird mix of flying-saucer theories and past-life regression in an effort to move to the next level. A local access show was used to recruit new members in the 1980s, with messages (featuring Uriel's unique wardrobe) such as this appearing in the California area:

Ioshanna wrote of a 2001 mass space fleet landing. When that didn't happen, the organization decided to return to its roots. Roots, in this case, being a belief in a future extraterrestrial landing that will assist humankind.

This is by no means a complete list. To read more past prophecies and predictions, check out:
A Brief History of the Apocalypse
It's the End of the World As We Know It...Again
Apocalypse Now. No, Really, Now!

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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