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5 Scary Places and the Legends Behind Them

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There are more haunted places and scary stories around the world than you can shake a stick at. Here are a few you might not be familiar with already.

The Haunted Tunnel

Moonville, Ohio was once a thriving mining town with a population that peaked at about 100 people. Nearby is a railroad tunnel that is purported to be haunted by any of the four people who died there. The most famous is a railroad brakeman who had too much to drink and tried to stop a train, but was hit in March of 1859. The train wheels mangled his leg and he died of his injuries within days. The other deaths were a miner who was trapped in a collapsed mine, a woman who was crossing the railroad trestle when a train passed, and a fellow who crossed the tracks after a train, but didn't see another portion of the train that had become detached and was still moving in the same direction. Several accounts exist of people who see the brakeman near the tunnel, swinging a light in an attempt to stop the train, or see the woman who died in 1905 walking beside the tracks. Railroad workers occasionally see a semi-transparent man being hit, and sometimes they hear screams, but no solid body is hit during those events.

Devil's Town

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Djavolja Varos translates to English as Devil's Town, and is located between Devil's Gully and Hell's Gully in Serbia. This area has hundreds of stone towers made of volcanic stone that rise when the surrounding soil is washed away. They only last a few hundred years, so the landscape changes and this led to the legend of demons fighting each other. The story goes that the devil placed a curse on the local waters and those who drank it forgot their ancestry. This led to a wedding between brother and sister. A fairy tried to stop the marriage, but the couple refused. The fairy was left with no choice but to turn them into stone, along with all the wedding guests. The legend is fed by the presence of mineral springs in the area, one that is used for medicinal purposes and another that produces red water. Acoustics play a part in the haunting as well. When the wind whips around the stone towers, you can hear eerie whistles, howls, cries, and squeaks. Image by Geologicharka.

The Curse of English Cave

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A cave runs under Benton Park in St. Louis, but no one can find a way in. The main entrance to English Cave, named after its first owner, was sealed up 100 years ago after it was found that water was draining in to it from Benton Park. In the early days of St. Louis, several businesses tried to use the cave and failed. Ezra English used it for storage for his brewery. He opened a beer garden attraction in 1849, which was also the year a cholera epidemic his St. Louis. The city even opened a new graveyard for cholera victims nearby. The cave attraction fizzled. In 1887, news owners tried a mushroom farm, which went out of business in two years. A winery used the cave in 1897, but that business didn't last long, either. Was the cave cursed? Legend has it that English Cave was the hiding place of two Native American lovers who fled there to avoid the tribal war chief, to whom the woman was promised in marriage. The chief and his warriors kept vigil outside the cave, until the couple inside died of starvation. Many years later, white explorers found two skeletons in the cave. Some say the ghosts of the couple are the real reason no business can thrive in English Cave.

The Haunted Bridge

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An old stone bridge called Packhorse Bridge in the northeastern Welsh village of Caergwrle is the scene of this ghostly photograph. Locals say this is the ghost of "Squire Yonge". However, this term turns up in Chaucer as well as Arthurian literature, and means young squire, which could refer to any number of people. The bridge was built in the 17th century. Nearby Caergwrle Castle was mostly completed by 1282, the final castle built before Wales lost its independent to England. The retreating Welsh filled in the well and sabotaged the castle in order to reduce its value to the English. It is mostly in ruins now. See more spooky night pictures of the bridge.

Fisher's Ghost

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Every November, Campbelltown, NSW, Australia holds the Festival of Fisher's Ghost. Frederick Fisher was a local businessman who had been in and out of prison. His neighbor George Worrall held power of attorney over Fisher's property while he was incarcerated. On the night of June 17, 1826, Worrall announced that Fisher had fled to England to avoid more legal trouble. Worrall soon disposed of Fisher's assets, and the suspicious citizenry had him arrested. Worrall blamed four other men, who were also arrested. But where was the evidence? The legend is that farmer John Farley saw the ghost of Fisher sitting on a bridge, pointing to an area where his body was subsequently found. The ghostly story was not used as evidence in the trial, but Fisher's body was recovered on October 25th, and Worrall was convicted of the murder and hanged. The story was made into a movie in 1924.

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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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