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5 Apocalypse Scenarios Governments Have Actually Addressed

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From a Zombie invasion to a March Madness app infecting all our cellphones, governments are preparing for the worst.

1. A Zombie Invasion

In a creative move meant to draw attention to how to deal with more likely emergencies, last May the Centers for Disease Control posted tips for how to successfully survive a zombie invasion. The timing was perfect: apocalypse discussion was already popular since an End Times pastor had announced the world would end on May 21, and a more realistic danger, hurricane season, was starting on June 1.

"If you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, you'll be prepared for all hazards," said CDC spokesman Dave Daigle.

And while the use of the brain-eating undead might seem like a cheap ploy to get people to the site, it worked. Every major news source reported the story, and it generated so much traffic that it crashed the website. While the topic was funny, the article itself contained information relevant to surviving any disaster, including what you need for an emergency kit, the importance of a family plan, and the CDC’s role in containing diseases (even zombie- borne ones.)

2. The Mayan Calendar

Calendar image via Shutterstock

Perhaps taking a page out of the CDC’s book, this year NASA released a video reassuring everyone the world will not end when the Mayan calendar does, on Dec 21, 2012. Even some more rational people have been intrigued by this end of the world prediction, citing the Mayan’s accurate prediction of comets hundreds of years in the future. Interest had been piqued thanks to media coverage, the use of the supposed apocalypse in advertising, and of course the blockbuster movie 2012.

In the video, Don Yeomans, head of the Near-Earth Objects Program Office at NASA explains some of the misinformation surrounding the Mayan calendar, including the fact that it doesn’t actually end on the 21st, comparing that date to our own December 31, with a new calendar beginning the next day. A Frequently Asked Questions page at also reassures the public that there is no wayward planet, asteroid, or polar shift about to destroy Earth as we know it.

3. The Collapse of the United States

Wyoming sign image via Shutterstock

In his new book, Senator Jim DeMint states, “We are in serious trouble and very close to economic collapse. This is not hyperbole; Americans have never been this close to losing all the freedom, prosperity, and opportunity that generations of citizens and soldiers have fought and died to give us.”

Combine statements like that with the severe economic problems in Europe, as well as the divisive political rhetoric in America, and it is no wonder that people are starting to think about what to do in case the country collapsed. In February, the Wyoming House of Representatives narrowly defeated a bill that would have created a committee to set up contingency plans in case the Federal Government collapsed. The “doomsday bill,” defeated by just 30-27, concentrated mostly on setting up Wyoming’s own currency to be distributed if the dollar had no government to back it, but also addressed food and energy preparedness.

And although it was removed before the final vote, some lawmakers jokingly added an amendment saying that Wyoming should consider buying their own fighter jets and an aircraft carrier. When asked for comment, the Governor pointed out that a carrier would need a larger lake.

4. Global Warming

EPA/Nicky Park/Landov

Island governments are very worried about rising sea levels. The melting icecaps are a problem for all small island nations for obvious reasons, but perhaps none more so than the country of Kiribati. Located in the center of the Pacific Ocean, this small island is barely above sea level, and rising ocean levels are already putting large chunks of it under water. The government of Kiribati is making arrangements to buy land in other countries, particularly Fiji, where they can slowly move their population of 100,000 before it is too late.

The Maldives are also in danger. In 2009, right before the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, President Mohamed Nasheed drew attention to the island’s plight by holding a cabinet meeting underwater. He has also spearheaded the drive to get other countries to commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

5. Technology Collapsing

sgm /

While many of the items on this list are jokes or hypotheticals, the U.S. government takes a terrorist attack on the nation’s technology infrastructure very seriously. If the internet and cellphone capability collapsed, the country would be thrown into untold chaos. Already email accounts belonging to Cabinet members have been hacked into and various other secure areas of the government's computer network have hundreds of thousands of attacks a day.

So in February of 2010, the government actually ran a war game for this probable eventuality. The scenario was incredibly detailed and highly probable. Cell phones went down after sports fans across America downloaded a March Madness app. The power grid collapsed. They threw in bombs in Tennessee and Kentucky and a hurricane in the Gulf too because if you’re playing a war game, why not go all out?

Broadcast on CNN and led by former head of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, the exercise was an interesting lesson, but perhaps worryingly did not result in a grand plan for how to handle just such a situation.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]