60 Powerful Photos of New Orleans 10 Years After Katrina

Regular readers are likely familiar with the work of photographer Seph Lawless, whose hauntingly gorgeous images of abandoned malls and amusement parks have been regularly featured on the site. In keeping with his interest in forgotten places, Lawless recently paid a visit to New Orleans to document the city, and its people, a full decade after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. The result is a collection of photos that serves as a powerful and poignant testament to a resilient city that, 10 years later, is still recovering from the devastation of the costliest storm in America's history.

More of Lawless’ work can be viewed on his Website, or by following him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.

"Meet Darrick Toney, holding up all 10 fingers representing 10 years of surviving Hurricane Katrina," Lawless says. "After losing family members and close friends to the catastrophe, Darrick was sent to Texas like many others. He would move back after seven years away and now lives back in New Orleans and struggles to assimilate back to his hometown."

The MGM Grand Casino.

Images from a hotel/restaurant 10 years after the flood waters from Katrina.

"The homeless population has risen almost 80 percent since Hurricane Katrina," according to Lawless.

"I witnessed more and more people doing whatever they could to support themselves," says Lawless. "Sometimes not much more than what amounts to setting up a lemonade stand."

Images of abandoned schools.

A forgotten factory.

The Wanderer: "A local transient walks amongst the ruins of a nearby apartment complex littered with clothes and personal belongings," explains Lawless.

"In 1960, several African-Americans' homes were removed to make way for the new highway overpass," Lawless explains. "Today, the overpass serves as gigantic umbrella against the summer sun for the homeless and local transients."

Born from the Great Flood: Twin brothers Donovan and Devon, both 10 years old, "were born in the Lower 9th Ward just days after Hurricane Katrina," Lawless says. "They play near their home at an abandoned house."

Construction of a new home.

The Stairs That Lead Nowhere: "Perhaps the saddest images I've captured were the shots of empty stairs and platforms where houses once stood," Lawless says. "When I approached a group of men sitting on one of these structures in the Lower 9th Ward, a man pointed over to his friend and said 'This used to be his home.' The stairs that lead nowhere can be seen all throughout the most devastated areas of Hurricane Katrina. Sometimes right next to the new homes being built. [It's] a sharp contrast and sobering reminder of a painful transition."

"'The Irony' Street name," Lawless says.


While visiting the Lower 9th Ward, Lawless encountered a "displaced man taking refuge in an abandoned home that has a huge hole in the side of it from where a tree rammed into the house after flood waters devastated the area. The man now fishes and makes the best of his shelter."

We Will Rebuild: "A church offers hope and plans to rebuild 10 years after Katrina," Lawless says.

"'Vote Early' became a slogan after the disaster to encourage people to become more proactive in local government," according to Lawless.

Ten years after being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, this Six Flags amusement park sits eerily abandoned.

The above images are all homes in the Lower 9th Ward, which famously suffered some of the storm's worst damage. "The hardest hit section of the city during Katrina was once the largest area of the city in which African-Americans owned homes," Lawless says.

The Color of Hope: "Even though most of the hardest hit areas of Katrina are open fields and abandoned, several colorful, modern homes designed with solar panels [and] futuristic designs are becoming more prevalent," Lawless says. "Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie started this movement with community leaders years ago with a promise to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward with affordable housing."

"Finally, I was able to sit down with FEMA's Ryan Mast to get old images of a few places right after Hurricane Katrina," says Lawless of his desire to create some before and after images, like the one of The Wilson School above, or two restored homes below. "I used those photographs to recreate them 10 years later. The same exact locations and shots—just 10 years later."

All images courtesy of Seph Lawless
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
Original image
Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]