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10 Other Doomsday Predictions That Were Not Correct

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We survived! Add it to the list of times the apocalypse was wrongly prophesized.

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1. 1284

When the Pope decrees something, people tend to listen. And they did, in 1213, when Pope Innocent III wrote that “the end of this beast is approaching, whose number, according to the Revelation of Saint John, will end in 666 years, of which already nearly 600 have passed."

2. February 20, 1524

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German scholar Johannes Stöffler was better at math and astronomy than he was at predicting the apocalypse. His calculations concluded that Noah had the right idea when he built that ark, because a flood of epic proportions was going to engulf Earth on February 20, 1524. People panicked when a light rain did begin to fall on that day, but it amounted to nothing but puddles.

3. Between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844

In 1822, Baptist preacher William Miller vaguely stated that he believed the “second coming of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door, even within twenty-one years - on or before 1843,” based on his interpretations of the book of Daniel. As he shared his views, he developed a rather large group of followers, cleverly dubbed “Millerites.” Though reluctant, Miller eventually set a more precise set of dates at the urging of his followers: namely, the 365 days between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.

When the last date came and went, Miller wrote to a friend, “The time, as I have calculated it, is now filled up; and I expect every moment to see the Savior descend from heaven. I have now nothing to look for but this glorious hope.” That’s when he recalculated.

4. April 18, 1844

Miller based this one on a different Jewish calendar, saying he had miscalculated a bit. Guess what? The world didn’t end. Though Miller’s followers were becoming a tad bit skeptical, he sustained them for a few more months by stating that the rapture had started - they were just experiencing a period of time called “tarrying,” which was kind of like sitting in the waiting room before you go in to see the doctor. Finally, Miller analyzed his calculations one more time, coming up with...

5. October 22, 1844

And that’s when the vast majority of Miller’s followers abandoned him, experiencing “the Great Disappointment.” People were so angry and disappointed that Millerite churches were burned to the ground, some followers were tarred and feathered, and one group was attacked by a mob wielding knives and clubs.

6. 1910

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with the appearance of Halley’s Comet. French astronomer Camille Flammarion predicted that a seven-tailed comet was coming to Earth, and gas from the comet’s tail would “impregnate” the Earth’s atmosphere, setting it and all of its inhabitants ablaze in a fiery explosion.

7. 1981 (-ish)

Back in 1978, pastor Chuck Smith determined that “the generation of 1948 is the last generation,” but also admitted that he “could be wrong.” Turns out he was.

8. March 10, 1982

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That was the day the Jupiter Effect was going to happen - when major planets would align on one side of the sun, causing nature to go nuts. A massive earthquake at the San Andreas fault was going to totally obliterate L.A. When the date came and went with nothing but high tides being a teeny bit higher than usual, the man who generated all of the hype, Dr. John Gribbin, published a book called The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered. By 1999, Gribbin was renouncing his theory entirely, saying “I’m sorry I ever had anything to do with it.”

9. September 11, 12 or 13, 1988.

Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA engineer, was so sure about his calculated date that he wrote a book called 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will be in 1988 and boldly stated, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong.” When he was, in fact, wrong, he published The final shout: Rapture Report 1989, followed by the less-certain 23 reasons why a pre-tribulation rapture looks like it will occur on Rosh-Hashanah 1993 and And now the earth's destruction by fire, nuclear bomb fire.

10. October 28, 1992

A Korean group known as Mission for the Coming Days was so adamant in their belief that the world would end just before Halloween in 1992 that they spent money to warn people in the U.S. via billboards, posters and other advertising.

This story first appeared last year, when the president of Family Radio was touting May 2011 as the end of the world.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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