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America's Most Haunted: Six Seriously Spooky Sites

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Having recently bought a 103-year-old house with some scary stories of its own, I approached this subject with some trepidation. After doing the research, I probably won't sleep for days.

The Ghost of Nyack

What do you do when you've just bought a haunted house? The people of Nyack, New York knew that the 5,000 square foot Victorian house was haunted, but Helen and George Ackley were only informed when they moved in. Strange things happened to them over the next 20 years.

One ghost would wake my wife up every morning for school by shaking her bed. When spring break came, my wife made a loud announcement before going to sleep that it was spring break, there was no school and she wanted to sleep in. Her bed did NOT shake the next morning.

While painting the living room Helen saw one of the ghost looking in approval of the color. She always got the feeling that the ghost liked the renovation they had done on the house.

When the Ackleys sold the house in 1990, Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky put $32,000 in escrow, then backed out of the deal when they learned the house was haunted. Helen Ackley refused to refund the deposit, and the Stambovskys sued. In what has been called the Ghostbusters ruling, the New York Appellate court ruled that the haunting should have been disclosed to potential buyers, since it is unlikely that a normal home inspection would uncover such a condition.

The Clutter House

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Herb Clutter of Holcomb, Kansas designed his two story brick home with five bedrooms and three bathrooms for his growing family in 1948. In November of 1959, Herb and wife Bonnie and their two teenagers were found bound and shot to death. In addition, Herb Clutter appeared to have been tortured. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were convicted of the crime. They had heard the Clutters were wealthy, but they only found $50 cash for all their trouble. Smith and Hickock were hanged in 1965. The crime was documented in Truman Capote's novel In Cold Blood. Some say the ghost of Nancy Clutter, Herb Clutter's popular teenage daughter walks the halls of the home at night. The house was up for auction in 2006 but was withdrawn when no bids were sufficient.

The Stanley Hotel

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The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is on the National Register of Historic Places. It has hosted numerous celebrities, including Stephen King, who was inspired to write The Shining after staying at the Stanley. Many believe the Stanley is haunted, but the spirits are benign. Founder F.O. Stanley's presence in felt in the billiard room, which was one of his favorite haunts when he was alive, as well. His wife Flora loved music, and can sometimes be heard playing piano in the hotel's music room, even though she died decades ago. The sound of children can often be heard on the fourth floor, where the servant's quarters were in days gone by. Stephen King stayed in room 217, but hotel employees say that the most haunted room at the Stanley is room 418. (image by Rob Lee)

The Horror of Amityville

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The house at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, New York was the scene of six murders in 1974. Ronald "Butch" DeFeo Jr. shot and killed his parents and four siblings. See crime scene pictures here. DeFeo is serving six consecutive life sentences, while his wife Tracy has a website maintaining his innocence. The next year, George and Kathleen Lutz bought the house and moved in. They stayed only 28 days. The Lutzes reported a long list of malevolent paranormal phenomena, the basis of the book The Amityville Horror, which was made into a film in 1979. Since that time, many of the Lutz's claims have been questioned.

The Crescent Hotel

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The 78-room Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas was built in 1886. It was a popular destination for those wishing to bathe in the area's healing springs. Later it was a women's college, a junior college, a hospital for a quack who sold the cure for cancer, and once again a hotel. It boasts several different stories of resident ghosts, many featuring doctors, nurses, and cancer patients.

Cheesman Park

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Cheesman Park is an 80-acre park in Denver, Colorado which began as a cemetery. It became the final resting place of many criminals and paupers. A nearby smallpox hospital contributed more of the deceased. In 1893, a part of the cemetery was made into a park, and the graves of some paupers were dug up for removal, often haphazardly so that many body parts were left behind. Around 2,000 bodies were never moved. When Cheesman Park opened, visitors and nearby residents reported ghosts roaming around. Voices can be heard when no one else is there, and specters are seen at night. (image by pbo31)

Update: For those of you who've asked, the Winchester Mystery House was featured in the post 10 Notable Staircases. Waverly Hills Sanatorium was the subject of its own post last year.

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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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