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The Top 13 Haunted Houses in the U.S.

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Look, it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it: has scoured the country for the scariest and weirdest haunted houses from coast to coast. Here are the attractions they've deemed most likely to make you pee your pants.

1. 13th Floor, Denver, Colorado

The undead don’t just jump out from behind walls at the 13th Floor; suspended on wires, they move quickly and silently and can appear from just about anywhere. And a writer from the Denver Post almost called his tour off at the Room of Spiders.

2. Bates Motel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

If serious special effects are what you look for in a haunted house experience, look no further than Bates Motel, which has effects that are so impressive they've been compared to the backlot tour at Universal Studios.

3. Headless Horseman, Ulster Park, New York

If you’ve ever wanted to see the Headless Horseman live and in the flesh—well, maybe not live, exactly—here’s your chance. Hauntworld calls this the best haunted hayride in the country, with incredibly detailed sets and over the top costumes.

4. Cutting Edge, Dallas, Texas

If you’re in the Dallas area and you’re thinking you’ll run through this one really quick, think again: The Cutting Edge once held the Guinness World Record for the longest haunted house in the world.

5. Netherworld, Atlanta, Georgia

As the most-visited haunted house in the U.S., Netherworld pulls out all the stops—including haunting the parking lot, before people have even paid for the scares.

6. 13th Gate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Two words: Live. Snakes. Thousands of them. And if that doesn’t do it for you, check out the “old-fashioned Voodoo Fire Show” on the weekends.

7. Field of Screams, Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Though part of Field of Screams is the Dead River Haunted Hayride, the longest haunted hayride in the world, attractions also include a haunted insane asylum and the “4-D Cirque du Souls.”

8. The Darkness, St. Louis, Missouri

After you work your way through an Indiana Jones-esque temple, you’ll find yourself in a haunted mansion with all of the trimmings: a mirror maze, a greenhouse with man-eating plants, a boiler room, and a wine cellar. But the real kicker is the 3D haunted house that comes at the end.

9. House of Torment, Austin, Texas

There are no random scares at the House of Torment. Every night, a mastermind sits at a control room and watches the guests coming through. This evil genius then picks the exact moment and the exact type of terror that each individual guest experiences.

10. Erebus, Pontiac, Michigan

Hauntworld has deemed this four-story attraction “the most unique haunted house in America,” probably because it’s no mere walk-through, though it is more than a half-mile of scares. Erebus includes walls that actually close in on guests, “bottomless” pits, waist-high swamps victims have to wade through, and a ball drop that buries guests in 10,000 of those little balls you find in the germ pit at Chuck-E-Cheese.

11. Dent Schoolhouse, Cincinnati, Ohio

Within the Dent Schoolhouse in Cincinnati lurks a serial-killing janitor. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also a creepy lunchlady, a whole classroom of children who are definitely not there to learn ABCs, and clowns. Because of course there are clowns.

12. Spookywoods, High Point, North Carolina

It’s not just one haunted experience—it’s a midway, an inn, a mine, a corn field, a graveyard, and even a cathedral. The whole setup inhabits most of a 60-acre farm.

13. Nightmare on the Bayou, Houston, Texas

Nightmare on the Bayou, according to some, is actually haunted (aren’t they all?). But since it is located next to Houston’s oldest graveyard, you can almost believe the claims.
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.