6 "Ghosts" Caught on Film

I love ghost stories -- and judging from the way they dominate certain aspects of our popular culture, it seems safe to assume that a lot of other people do, too. That doesn't mean I expect to find ghosts lurking in dark corners or popping out of closets, but when "evidence" of ghosts crops up, be it in the form of photographs, videos, recordings or what-have-you, I'm a sucker; I have to check it out. YouTube has become a place where such video "evidence" of ghosts tends to aggregate, and the videos run the gamut -- from obvious fakes designed to produce shock scares, to news reports about local ghost "sightings," to legitimately "unexplained" footage that people upload, hoping someone out there in internetland has an answer. Here are six such videos -- whether any of them are real, well, that's for you to decide.

Girl in the mirror

This one's been floating around the internet for a while -- more than long enough for the debunkers to get their hands on it. We're pretty sure that a little motion-tracking and some simple matting created the "mirror" effect in this video (the camera stops shaking right before the scare, a dead giveaway), but somehow knowing it's probably fake doesn't take all its creepiness away.

Gas station ghost

The scariest thing about this video may be its opening shot -- of $3.19 gas, which sounds like a bargain to me right now. But plenty of people find more to be scared of: specifically, the strange, ghostly blue cloud that hovers on a gas station security camera for more than half an hour, seeming to stalk customers as they fill their tanks. The phenomenon caused quite a stir, apparently making the Ohio gas station where it occurred the most popular one in town.

Singapore elevator ghost

This is supposed to be security camera footage from an office building in Singapore. After racking up more than a quarter-million views on YouTube in just a few days, it was revealed to be a marketing stunt created for a business recruitment and staffing firm, GMP Group, at a cost of some $100,000. Subsequently, a manager from the company named Josh Goh appeared in a video explaining that their motive for creating the video was to discourage their employees from working too late at night: "At GMP, we want to highlight the dangers of working too late. Stress, fatigue, ill health are just a few. And if you're really unlucky, you just might see a ghost." Hilarious, guys.

Vatican Ghost

A Canadian tourist unwittingly captured something spectral-looking on video while taping in the Vatican. This is a news report about it.

Creepy gnome

OK, this one's not a ghost, but it's just as X-files as the rest of these videos, and just as creepy. To wit: back in March, headlines started circulating around that read "creepy gnome terrorizes Argentinian town!" Links led to a video, supposedly made with a cell phone by a group of small-town Argentine teens who were sitting around doing not-very-much when a two-foot-tall, pointy-hatted gnome popped out of some bushes some twenty yards away and began shambling across the road. How convenient that they had just started shooting moments before it appeared, and knew right where to aim the lens and zoom in perfectly, and how strange that the footage cuts off where it does, and the boys don't rush to investigate. And that there are no reports of Argentine towns being terrorized by gnomes, as claimed in the Sun, essentially the Brit equivalent of our (may she rest in peace) Weekly World News. Despite all this, however, this video genuinely creeped me out.

"Dungeon" ghost

There are way too many "ghost" videos of this type floating around the web, but I thought I should include at least one because they're so prevalent. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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