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10 Allegedly Cursed Objects

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China Photos/Getty Images

1. The Hope Diamond

Believed to have come to the surface 1.1 billion years ago, this gem is estimated to be worth $200-250 million. It has traveled the world but now resides in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and some believe it is cursed, with a whole mythology claiming that great misfortune and misery will befall any who dares to wear the 45.52 carat diamond. Rumored victims of the diamond have suffered disgrace, divorce, suicide, imprisonment, torture, financial ruin, lynching, or decapitation. One was even said to have been ripped apart by dogs, and another by a French mob. However, skeptics say this curse was a ploy to enhance the Hope Diamond's mystique and value.

2. The Busby Stoop Chair

English drunkard Thomas Busby sealed his fate when he murdered his father-in-law Daniel Auty in 1702. For his crimes, he was executed by hanging at a crossroads near a humble inn. But the story goes that this was not the end of Busby's killing. A chair that looked on to the site of his execution is believed to carry a curse—whoever sits upon it will supposedly die from a frightful accident. Still, the chair lingered in the inn until 1978, when the owner gifted it to the Thirsk Museum, where it now resides high on a wall, where no one need fear an accidental sitting.

3. The Crying Boy Painting

Another curse out of England comes from this popular 1950s reproduction of Bruno Amadio's "The Crying Boy" painting. The superstition goes that the pictures of this mournful child cause fires. Its source was an article in the tabloid The Sun from September 4th, 1985.  A couple’s house burned down, but the fire didn’t burn “The Crying Boy.” A local firefighter then noted that there were other fires that left only an undamaged "Crying Boy" painting.

4. The Hands Resist Him Painting

Another tale of cursed art surrounds this painting of a young boy and a female doll standing before a window. Painted by California artist Bill Stoneham in 1972, "The Hands Resist Him" belonged to actor John Marley before ending up on eBay in 2000 with claims it was cursed. The anonymous sellers said it was found abandoned behind an old brewery. Soon after taking it home, their young daughter claimed the figures in the painting moved at night, and even stepped out of their frame to cause chaos in the home. They posted photos as proof. As may be the case with the Hope Diamond, the curse story drove up the bid to $1,025.00.

5. The Terracotta Army

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In 1974, seven peasant farmers in China were digging a well for their village when they accidentally uncovered the 2,200-year-old Terracotta Army, an astonishingly detailed series of 8,000 sculptures that had been long buried as part of a grand tomb. The find has been a great one for China, bringing academics and busloads of tourists. But those who found it gained only misery. The Chinese government claimed their lands and destroyed their homes to properly unearth this army, financially ruining not just these men, but most of their village. Painful deaths followed for three of the seven, because as one of the survivors points out, they could not afford health care. Some have blamed government callousness for these men's fates. Others believe that this is a curse similar to that of Tut's Tomb.

6. Tut's Tomb

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Perhaps the most famous curse of all is the Tomb of Tutankhamun, the burial place of the 19-year-old pharaoh. All who enter—be they bandit or archaeologist—are said to be struck with bad luck, illness, or death because of the curse of the pharaohs. Belief in this curse predated the 1922 Howard Carter expedition to find Tut's tomb, but his discovery unleashed new life for this legend. The first to die was the canary that was rumored to have led Carter to the tomb's hidden location. Some say it was eaten by a cobra, a symbol of Egyptian royalty, while others insist it wasn't even killed, but rather given to a friend. Soon thereafter, Carter's financial backer Lord Carnavon died when a mosquito bite became infected. Twenty more deaths of people would get blamed on the curse by 1935. Still, skeptics suggest coincidence or a deadly fungus from the tomb are to blame.

7. Iceman

Another mummy believed to carry a terrible curse is Ötzi, also known as the Iceman. Discovered in September of 1991 in the Ötztal Alps in Italy, Ötzi is a mummy of a man who is believed to have lived around 3,300 BCE. A glacier surrounded him after he died of exposure, and preserved his body. But once unearthed, rumors of a curse surfaced too, and grew stronger as people linked to him began to die, often in violent accidents. All told, seven deaths have been tied to Ötzi's uprooting, including forensic pathologist Rainer Henn who was killed in a car accident en route to give a speech about the Iceman, mountaineer Kurt Fritz who died in an avalanche, and hiker Helmut Simon, who discovered the Iceman on a hike with his wife and later died after falling off a treacherous path.

8. James Dean's Little Bastard

"Little Bastard" was what Dean called his silver Porsche 550 Spyder, the car he died in following an accident in 1955. After that, the vehicle was purchased by hot rod designer George Barris, who planned to sell it for parts. The curse narrative was born when the car fell and crushed a mechanic's legs. As parts of the car sold, the curse is said to have spread. A doctor who bought the engine was killed in a car accident; another victim who bought the transmission was severely injured in a crash. The tires sold from Little Bastard blew out simultaneously, sending their buyer to the hospital. While the shell of the car was being transported, the truck carrying it crashed, and the driver was killed. From there, the shell was stolen and the curse of Little Bastard went quiet as its location became unknown.

9. The Phone Number +359 888 888 888

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You might think a cursed phone number sounds like the plot to an uninspired horror flick, but anyone who had the number listed above since its first issuing in the early 2000s has died. That includes the CEO of a Bulgarian mobile phone company who died of cancer at 48, as well as two crooks—one a mafia boss and the other a cocaine-dealing estate agent, both of whom were "gunned down." All three died within four years of one another. Since then, the telephone number has been suspended, and the company that owns it refuses to comment as to why.

10. The Basano Vase

Legend has it that this silver vase made in the 15th century was given to a bride on the eve of her wedding near Napoli, Italy. Sadly, she'd never make it to the altar as she was murdered that very night with the vase in her hands. From there, it was passed down her family line, but anyone who took possession of it is said to have perished soon thereafter. After untold deaths, the family boxed the vase away. It resurfaced in 1988 with a note that is said to have read, “Beware…This vase brings death.” However, when the Basano Vase was auctioned off for about $2,250, the note had been excluded from the item description. The pharmacist who bought it died within three months. Three more deaths of new owners followed until finally the curse seemed to go dormant when a desperate family demanded the police take it away. It has not been seen since.

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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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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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