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8 Weekly World News Headlines that Turned Out to be True

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The Weekly World News existed because the owner of the National Enquirer switched to color printing, but he didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good black and white press. Eddie Clontz was the managing editor for the Weekly World News during much of its run. He had a philosophy for his newsroom: “Don’t fact check yourself out of a good story.” The WWN took each ridiculous claim it was presented with as unshakable truth (you can still get your bizarre "news" fix at WWN's website). And every now and then, amid Bat Boy’s wild antics and Grandma’s trips to heaven to play bingo with Jesus, there were truths. Eight Weekly World News headlines that turned out to be true are listed below.

1. June 7, 1988 — "WOMAN BURSTS INTO FLAMES DURING OPERATION!"

Suffering a serious spider bite, Kathy Williams underwent an emergency tracheotomy at the Welborn Hospital in Indiana. The sterilizing solution swabbed over the upper part of her body and face caught fire when, according to the News, a spark from a cauterizing device lit her into “a ball of fire.”

Twenty-one years later, Kathy’s ordeal would again be mentioned in The Southern Illinoisan, when another woman died from what is termed “a surgical flash fire.” The article confirms that “Kathy Williams of Harrisburg… suffered second- and third-degree burn from a 1988 flash fire over the top half of her body, including her face, in what was to have been a common surgery.” The article mentions that Kathy settled out of court.

2. June 7, 1988 — "BIRTH DEFECT NEARLY RUINED HIS LIFE!! BOY WAS RAISED AS A GIRL—BY MISTAKE!"

Genitals start neutrally, the same for both boys and girls. As the pregnancy progresses, the chromosomes of the fetus begin to shape the same basic flesh into vulvas or scrotums, penises or clitorises. Ambiguous genitalia occur when this development is not finished. Steve Hammond was born with XY chromosomes, making him male. But his testicles were recessed and his penis was what the doctors of his day deemed too small to allow him a happy male existence. So they did what was fashionable. They told his parents to raise him female. (For a truly devastating tale of how bad of an idea this is, read about the life of David Reimer.)

“Linda” Hammond knew she was different. She never grew breasts or menstruated and she was the strongest woman at the shipyard she worked at. Linda thought she was a hermaphrodite and was deeply ashamed, never seeking medical help until age 25. When a doctor revealed to Steve that he was a man, Steve set about making himself a life, which can be read about both here and in his book, Looking Beyond the Mountains.

3. June 17, 2004 — "HOG-ZILLA! MUTANT 12 FOOT PIG KILLED IN GEORGIA! AND THERE ARE OTHERS OUT THERE!!"

Now, be savvy. This is NOT Hog-zilla, though many will try to pixelate you into thinking it is. But Hog-zilla was real. He was a crossbreed of a domestic Hampshire pig and a wild boar, and he was killed in 2004 by a Georgian man named Chris Griffin. Hog-zilla wasn’t edible and was too expensive (and horrid) to have stuffed, so his killers gave him a proper burial. And it was a good thing, because that allowed Dr. Oz Katz and his father, Dr. Eliahu Katz, to exhume the remains and prove the monster of myth had truly existed. He was, however, only 8 feet long, not 12. Still utter nightmare fodder. One of the rare times all those exclamation points the WWN uses are justified.

4. May 3, 1988 — "SKYDIVER LEARNS IN MIDAIR—HE FORGOT HIS PARACHUTE! 'OH MY GOD, NO!'"

Ivan Lester McGuire was 35 years old and a veteran of over 800 skydiving jumps when he fell to his death in April 1988. He was hoping to launch a career as a skydiving photographer, and jumped hooked into a special camera to film another team of jumpers. His co-workers, like Ivan, did not notice he had not put on his parachute. ''We are all preoccupied with doing our own job,'' said Paul Fayard, owner of the Franklin County Sport Parachute Center who flew the plane Ivan jumped from. It was likely the excitement of suiting up with the complicated photography gear that distracted Ivan. The police recounted that he at one point reaches for his rip cord and comes up empty handed. The rest of the video is just the ground approaching at 150 miles per hour.

5. May 17, 1988— "DOCTORS REMOVE 126-POUND TUMOR FROM 124 POUND WOMAN!"

The photo does not go with the article, though it somehow makes it better to think it does. 55 year old Barbara Louise Jones knew something was wrong with her, but she was too scared to go to a doctor. Her mother had died a difficult death from cancer, and Barbara’s fear was more powerful than her logic. She hoped avoiding a diagnosis meant avoiding cancer. But when she was forced to retire early due to exhaustion, and was unable to drive a car over her own distended abdomen, she went. And she did have cancer. A 130-pound malignant ovarian tumor adhering to the walls of her abdomen, stretching her skin “paper thin.” The incision to remove it was 4½ feet. The tumor was fully removed, and Barbara was expected to have a full recovery. A later obituary for a Barbara Louise Jones of the same age and location lists her death date as July 2010.

6. October 6, 1990 — "NEW! BIRTH CONTROL GIZMO IS A 5-YEAR WONDER!!"

Hormonal IUD’s were, not so long ago, a crazy futuristic fever dream thought up by Finnish doctors. Doctors had been experimenting with copper IUD’s for some time, but Jouni Valtteri Tapani Luukkainen’s original T-shaped Levanova-R was the first to use progesterone to such success. The progesterone thickens the mucus inside the uterus so sperm can’t get through to do their job, and the device can safely remain inside a woman for up to five years. Levanova-R is now called Mirena, is owned by Bayer, and is one of the most popular and reliable forms of birth control available.

7. Oct 8, 1985 — "LESBIAN JUDGE GIVES BIRTH!"

Mary Carolyn Morgan did, in fact, give birth. To a human. She is also an honest to goodness lesbian. In 1981 she became the first openly gay woman in America to be appointed as a judge. She now sits on the San Francisco County Superior Court.

8. October 8, 1985 — "DAD - 14 - LOSES CHILD CUSTODY FIGHT: YOUNG LOVE ON THE ROCKS!"

Honestly, Hal tried to do it right. He got his 15-year-old girlfriend, Wendy, pregnant when he was 13, so he married her. They moved into the trailer behind his parent’s house. Wendy left him a year later and took their baby, Heather, with her. So Hal fought for custody, and lost. Hal’s dad Herbert defended his son. “The judge here simply did not consider the merit of the case,” he said. "He would not separate the tradition of always granting custody to the mother from today's reality that I have a responsible son.” And Hal did have a point when he told reporters, "It seems there is just no justice in this world, because I have done absolutely nothing to lose my baby girl."

Hal was ordered to pay $30 a week in child support, which he could not afford as state law forbade children his age from working. Love was still in the cards for Hal, though. The following year he married his second wife, 14-year-old Catherine, who soon gave birth to baby Ashley. Hal was surprised at the pregnancy, and said he’d been too shy to procure condoms. As of 1986, he vowed to keep fighting for full custody of Heather. 

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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