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Robin Esrock

16 Spooky-as-Hell Photos From Inside Chernobyl

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Robin Esrock

It’s been almost three decades since the meltdown of reactor number four in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, an unprecedented manmade disaster that affected much of Europe. Radiation levels are still sky high, but with a Geiger counter and the right permits, visitors can safely enter the 18-mile Zone of Exclusion on guided day-tours. What you’ll encounter is straight out of a horror movie.

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When reactor number four ignited, firefighters rushed to the scene oblivious and unprepared for the meltdown. Within days, many died from acute radioactive sickness. Today, the reactor is enclosed in a massive cement sarcophagus, designed to keep uranium isotopes from entering the atmosphere. The cement has already leaked radioactive lava, with the reactor still capable of fires and explosions. Ongoing maintenance of the sarcophagus remains a concern for all of Europe.

© Robin Esrock

A model Soviet city, Prypiat was home to 50,000 people and serviced the adjacent power plant. It was hastily abandoned after the meltdown, and has remained untouched ever since. Everything inside the city and surrounding area is contaminated. Empty and desolate, nature is reclaiming this once-thriving city.

© Robin Esrock

Visiting an old school is particularly haunting.

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Dolls with dead-stare eyes can be found as you approach the nursery. While visitors are strongly advised not to touch anything, some items have been arranged for maximum creep effect.

© Robin Esrock

According to some reports, some 4,000 children have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer as a direct result of the Chernobyl meltdown.

© Robin Esrock

Blackened, rusty cribs in the old nursery. You can almost hear the soft melodies of music boxes, violently disrupted with panic during evacuation. This is not the place for vivid imaginations.

© Robin Esrock

It will take centuries before anything in Prypiat can safely be destroyed. During that time, the evidence of humanity will continue to break down naturally, some more gracefully than others.

© Robin Esrock

Soviet-era propaganda and iconography are prominent. Prypiat was built as a model city to demonstrate the power and efficiency of the State, with the Chernobyl facility a symbol of national pride. Today it provides a fascinating glimpse into the past, and the hubris of the State’s political ambitions.

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The old gymnasium with its empty pool is a visitor highlight. Broken glass and cracked ceramic tiles are everywhere. You can listen to your scream echo throughout the gym and adjacent buildings.

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Moss, dust and bushes might look benign, but this growth has absorbed much of the radiation. Visitors are advised to watch where they step, and to avoid moss in particular. All visitors are screened on exit for exposure to radiation, with particular attention paid to hands and footwear.

© Robin Esrock

A fairground was scheduled to open just two days after the disaster. This creaking, rusted, radioactive Ferris wheel never took a single paying customer.

© Robin Esrock

Portraits of Communist party leaders have been stored backstage in the community theater, along with old props and equipment. Seats are torn, and decades-old dust sits heavy on the stage.

© Robin Esrock

If your visit needs a soundtrack, listen to the detuned strings in this abandoned piano shop. Neglect, creaking wood and wind result in disjointed twangs and ghostly whistles.

© Robin Esrock

Nature has been remarkably resilient. Moose, deer, boar, wolves, and bears have been reported in the area, breeding in large numbers. Scientists have been unable to detect any large-scale mutations. Safe from fishing rods, these giant catfish swim in the radioactive water river near the reactor.

© Robin Esrock

Chernobyl could have been much worse. Favorable winds saved thousands of lives, splitting the plume and sparing the city from the brunt of the initial radiation. The Soviet government originally planned to build the reactors just 15 miles from Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, which would have devastated a concentrated population.

Have we learned from Chernobyl? Scientists are warning the long-term effects of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster could be even worse.

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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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