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8 Stories of Vicious Man-Eaters

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With all we've accomplished, it's easy to forget that people aren't always the dominant species. Here are eight stories of man-eating animals that remind us we really are still part of the food chain.

1. The Ghost and The Darkness

Over nine months in 1898, two maneless, male lions allegedly attacked and killed over 140 workers building a British rail bridge across the Tsavo River in eastern Africa. Nicknamed "The Ghost" and "The Darkness" by the superstitious natives, the two beasts were said to be the angry souls of ancient tribal leaders protesting the destruction of their kingdom.

As the attacks became more frequent, employees refused to work. So, chief engineer Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson took it upon himself to hunt down the beasts. Using a series of scaffolding-like structures made of trees and branches (called "manchas"), he was able to hide from the two beasts, shooting them both a few weeks apart. Patterson had the animals' skins made into rugs, and eventually sold the remains to the Chicago Field Museum. The animals were expertly reconstructed and are still on display today. [Image courtesy of Jeffrey Jung.]

However, modern science has to some extent diminished the legend of the Lions of Tsavo. Recent chemical tests on hair samples have revealed that the animals did eat people in the months before they died, but that the combined number was probably closer to 35—a far cry from the original count of 140.

2. The Man-Eater of Mfuwe

This cocky, 10-foot long lion terrorized the people of Zambia in 1991. After his sixth kill, the lion strutted through the middle of town carrying the victim's laundry bag, daring anyone to confront him. A California man on safari waited in a hunting blind for 20 nights before finally shooting and killing the monster. This man-eater is currently neighbors with The Ghost and The Darkness at Chicago's Field Museum.

3. The Champawat Tigress

In the early 1900s, a female tiger allegedly killed 200 people in Nepal before she was driven across the border into the Kumaon Province of India. Once there, she continued her murderous spree by killing another 236 people, bringing her total to 436 over an eight year period.

Determined to end the killings, British hunter Jim Corbett roamed the countryside for days searching for the tigress, but came up empty. Finally, news of a new victim led him to the scene and he tracked the animal as she dragged her latest kill through the dense jungle. Corbett recruited the men of Champawat, a nearby village, to form a line of banging drums in an attempt to drive the animal towards him. The plan worked, and he killed the tigress with two shots. After examining the body, Corbett noticed that her right canine teeth had been damaged by a previous gunshot, which he believed prevented her from hunting her natural prey and forced her to rely on food that was easier to catch.

4. The Tigers of Chowgarh

This mother and son duo were responsible for the deaths of at least 64 people during a five year period in India. In 1930, Jim Corbett shot and killed them both as well. When the mother died, Corbett saw that her claws and one canine tooth were broken, and that her front teeth had completely worn down. Like the Champawat Tigress, these deficiencies probably made hunting its natural prey difficult.

5. The Jaws of Jersey

jersey-jawsDuring the first six days of July in 1916, two men were killed while swimming at resorts on the coast of New Jersey, by what witnesses said was a 9-foot long, 500-pound shark. These sensational deaths made front-page news across the country, prompting experts to reassure Jersey Shore tourists that the attacks were a once-in-a-lifetime event and didn't expect to see another like them for 1,000 years. In reality, the next attacks came less than a week later.

On July 12, in Matawan, New Jersey, 12-year old Lester Stillwell was swimming in the river when he was pulled underwater by a shark. Stanley Fisher, a local dry cleaner, selflessly dove in to find Lester, only to have the shark strip his right thigh of an estimated 10 pounds of muscle and skin. About 30 minutes later, young Joseph Dunn was swimming with friends by a dock when they faintly heard someone yell, "Shark!" Dunn was last in line for the ladder to safety when, after putting one foot on the bottom rung, the shark latched onto his other leg and yanked him back into the water. The other boys were able to free him from the monster's grasp, but not before it had cut his lower leg to ribbons.

Stanley Fisher died that day just as he was going into surgery. Lester Stillwell's body floated up a few days later, with much of the flesh missing from his left leg, part of his shoulder, and across his chest. Only Joseph Dunn survived the Jersey man-eater and, thanks to medical attention, walked out of the hospital on both legs.

For weeks, a frenzy of amateur shark hunters killed many of the big fish around New Jersey. On July 14, a seven foot Great White was snared—its stomach was said to contain "suspicious fleshy material and bones." The attacks stopped, but to this day, there is debate if that Great White really was the killer. While there haven't been any similar, large-scale shark attacks on the Jersey Shore since, the events of 1916 were immortalized when they became the inspiration for the novel (and movie) Jaws.

6. The Goonch Catfish

Another man-eater with gills is the Goonch, a species of 6-foot long, 150-pound catfish that swims the Great Kali River in the foothills of the Himalayas. This giant has reportedly pulled a handful of people underwater over the last 20 years, drowning them and feasting on the body. It has been theorized that the fish has acquired a taste for human flesh after dining on funeral pyre remains dumped into the river.

7. Old Two Toes

The story of Old Two Toes, a man-eating grizzly bear that rampaged through Montana, starts in 1898 when a prospector name Johnny Graham set out a bear trap near his claim. The next morning, the trap was gone and a blood trail led into the woods. Graham followed the trail and found a gigantic grizzly lying quietly among the trees. Thinking it dead, the miner set his rifle down and pulled out his knife, to skin the bear for its valuable fur. As he got closer, the bear lunged, mauling Graham to death. Later, a friend came to check on the miner and found the trap with three bear toes still in its jaws—they were chewed off by the determined grizzly, leaving the bear with only two toes on one foot.

Pat Welsh, a wagon train driver, became Old Two Toes' next victim. The bear happened upon the train's camp and began eating the food out of Welsh's wagon. Two Toes killed Welsh while the other members of the wagon train fired Roman candles to chase him away. Another victim, Frenchy Duret, captured the bear in a trap and shot it. But Two Toes simply snapped the chain holding the trap in place and charged at Duret. His body was found later that day, partially devoured.

How Old Two Toes died is a bit of a mystery. Some legends say that Frenchy's shot was enough to mortally wound the bear. Others say Two Toes attacked a man named Dale, knocking him into a ravine. When Two Toes came down the valley to finish the man off, the bear fell on its back. Dale quickly fired three shots into the exposed underside, puncturing the grizzly's lung, breaking its neck, and hitting it in the head. Another story involves government wagon drivers who placed dynamite under some food and waited for the big bear to come by for a free meal. The men set off the explosives and Old Two Toes lost a lot more than just a couple of claws.

8. The Sloth Bear of Mysore

The Indian Sloth Bear is a fairly small but very aggressive bear found exclusively on the Indian subcontinent. For unknown reasons, one bear attacked at least 36 people, killing 12. Some of his victims were partially eaten and had their faces ripped from their skulls. Those who survived didn't fare much better, as they usually lost eyes and noses. Big game hunter Kenneth Anderson finally ended the bear's rampage with a single shot to the chest.

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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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