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6 Crazy Ways People Are Prepping for Doomsday

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By Chris Gayomali


REUTERS/China Daily China Daily Information Corp - CDIC

Circle your calendars: The world ends on December 21 ... at least according to some out-there prognosticators. And predictably, more than a few rattled souls from different corners of the globe are rushing to empty their savings accounts and stockpile nonperishable food, guns, ammo, gas generators, and whatever other doomsday supplies they can get their hands on. Of course, the Mayan calendar predicting the end of times has probably been misread, and NASA insists there aren't any asteroids headed our way any time soon. But the philosophy of these so-called "preppers" is that you can never, ever be too careful. Here's how they're getting ready for the end of the world:

1. The man building Noah's Ark

Lu Zhenghai of China is sinking $160,000 of his life savings into a massive ship to ensure that he and his family are protected in the event of a worldwide flood. The house-sized ship is pretty substantial, too. At 65 feet long, it weighs about 80 tons, built mostly of timber and steel. It's unclear if there will be any animals taken onboard.

2. The man who built a nuclear shelter out of school busses

Bruce Beach, a 78-year-old former high school teacher living in Ontario, is no stranger to fallout shelters. He built his first in response to the Cuban missile crisis in the '60s. His life's work, a sprawling underground labyrinth nicknamed "Ark Two," was finished in the 1980s and is comprised of 42 underground school busses. Beach rents out rooms in Ark Two, and like most B&Bs, Ark Two rooms boast a kitchen, shower, and separate bunks for children and adults. "People have been in a panic because someone has prophesized the end of the world this particular week or whatever," he told the Canadian Press. "They call us up just to make sure we have space in the shelter and I tell them, "For sure, come on down."

3. The man building 3-ton steel balls

Not to be outdone by his ship-building countryman, 32-year-old Yang Zongfu of China has been building 3-ton yellow steel balls measuring 13 feet in diameter. The balls are hollow, and inside each there are seatbelts. They're designed to withstand a volcano, tsunami, earthquake, or nuclear meltdown. Yang calls each anti-disaster bubble "Atlantis."

4. The man who spent $130,000 on survival equipment

More than $130,000 of author Patrick Geryl's savings has gone into survival prep. In a small wooden bunker in South Africa (far away from the site of a potential nuclear meltdown), Geryl has stockpiled walls of guns, ammo, water purification tablets, and more, should the world need to be re-colonized. All of this is detailed in his tell-all book, How to Survive 2012. But with only two-and-a-half stars on Amazon, it's safe to say it probably won't make any best-seller lists come 2013.

5. The man who spent $350,000 on survival equipment

$130,000 is nothing! Australian marketer Robert Bast, 46, is the proprietor of a community called Survive2012.com, and has spent upwards of $350,000 stockpiling food, water, gas cookers, generators, and a pick-up truck to take his wife and three children to a safe house 1,500 feet above sea level. "What is certain is that in my lifetime, there is a strong likelihood that there will be a catastrophe of some kind," he tells CNN. "The sun destroying power grids, a flu pandemic that kills millions, an asteroid or meteor or comet striking earth, or a magnetic pole shift."

6. The couple stockpiling honey bees

A New England mom named Kathy Harrison prefers her other nickname: The "Doris Day of Doom." But rather than stockpile weapons and ammunition, Harrison and her husband are keeping something a bit unorthodox: Honey bees. "In a grid down situation those bees become not just food for us, but they become money that we can barter for," said Harrison. "Those bees are the essence of resilience for us."

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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