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5 Bodies Nobody Ever Found

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The wreckage of Steve Fossett's plane was located last month, but it's still too early to say with absolute certainty that Fossett's body has been found. (Partial remains are currently undergoing DNA analysis.) Here are five bodies we still haven't stumbled across, even after all these years.

1. Ambrose Bierce (1842"“1914?)

He was wounded during the Civil War, drank with fellow journalists Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken, and kept a human skull on his desk. Bierce was also a devilishly fine writer who lampooned and skewered just about everyone in the American public eye during the last half of the 19th century. One thing he wasn't, however, was found.


In late 1913, Bierce went to Mexico to cover the country's revolution. What happened to him when he got there is a mystery. Theories include: he was killed at the Battle of Ojinaga; he was executed by the revolutionary leader Pancho Villa; he shot himself at the Grand Canyon. Any of those ends would have doubtless suited Bierce. Death by bullet, he wrote before leaving for Mexico, "beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs."

2. Joseph F. Crater (1889"“????)

jcarter.jpgOn the evening of August 6, 1930, a New York Supreme Court associate justice stepped into a New York City taxi—and became a synonym for "missing person." When Crater didn't show up for court on August 25, a massive search was launched. But no trace of the judge was ever found. There were reports he was killed by the jealous boyfriend of a chorus girl, or by crooked politicians who feared what Crater knew. Conversely, there were rumors that he fled the country to avoid a judicial corruption probe. After 10 years, Crater was declared dead. But by then he'd already become a staple of pop culture: Groucho Marx would sometimes end his nightclub act by saying he "was stepping out [to] look for Judge Crater."

3. Amelia Earhart (1897"“1937?)

amelia.jpgIt was the second time around when Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off in May 1937 to try to circle the world in a custom-built twin-engine plane. A first effort by the famed aviatrix ended in a crash in Hawaii. Undaunted, however, Earhart had completed all but the last three legs of her second journey when the world last heard from her on July 2, and investigations into her fate have been almost ceaseless since then. U.S. government officials say she crashed at sea. Others claim she died on a South Pacific island, was captured and executed by the Japanese military, or lived out her life as a housewife in New Jersey.

4. Glenn Miller (1904"“1944?)

glen-miller.jpgOn December 15, 1944, it was so foggy that Miller reportedly joked, "Even the birds are grounded." Still, the famed bandleader, who had joined the U.S. Army in 1942, boarded a small plane in Bedford, England, bound for Paris to prepare for a troop concert. He never made it. Depending on your level of credulity: the plane crashed in the English Channel; it was knocked down by Allied planes jettisoning bombs before landing; he was killed by the Nazis while on a secret mission; or he died of a heart attack in a Paris brothel. The big money, though, is apparently on the bomb theory. A Royal Air Force logbook indicating "friendly fire" as the cause of Miller's demise sold for about $30,000 at a 1999 auction.

5. Harold Holt (1908"“1967?)

holt.jpgOn December 17, 1967, the ocean was all motion off Portsea, Victoria, but Australian politician Harold Holt, known as the "sportsman prime minister," plunged into the surf anyway. The man had been PM for only two years, but sadly, he never came out, and an intensive search failed to turn up a trace. The result? 38 years of rumors: had Holt committed suicide; been assassinated by the CIA; been eaten by a shark; or had he swum out to a waiting Chinese submarine and been spirited away? Without a body, no inquest was held at the time.


But in 2004, a change in Australian law prompted a formal inquiry to formally close the case of the missing PM. The ruling? A lackluster verdict to say the least: death by drowning.

See also: 6 Unsolved Disappearances

This article was excerpted from Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits. You can pick up a copy in the mental_floss store.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

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]

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