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10 Comics That Came Surprisingly Close to Real Life

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Comics aren’t often accused of being too realistic, but sometimes they eerily tip-toe into the realm of non-fiction. Here are 10 comics that brushed uncomfortably close with real life—some inadvertently, others on purpose.

1. THE LEXCORP TOWER AND 9/11

DC Comics

In the days after 9/11 there were lots of disaster-themed media that suddenly seemed wildly inappropriate in light of the tragedy that just occurred. Comics had their own uncomfortable example of this when Adventures of Superman #596 hit stores the day after the 9/11 attacks with an image of the smoking, damaged husk of Lex Luthor’s single L-shaped Lexcorp tower which, viewed from the angle below, looks much like the Twin Towers (keep in mind for everything on this list that comics generally take months to produce and distribute before they hit the stands so these are all incredible coincidences).

Unbelievably, later in that issue, an image of the actual Twin Towers is shown with damage that is remarkably close to where the real hijacked planes crashed into them.

DC Comics

2. WONDER WOMAN AND THE DEATH OF PRINCESS DI

In August 1997, DC Comics released Wonder Woman #126 in which Wonder Woman, also known as Princess Diana of Themyscira, would die at the hands of the demonic villain Neron. Her death would actually happen in the following issue and she would be brought back to life (of course) shortly after. This was to be the beginning of popular comic creator John Byrne’s run on the title.

Four days after this comic hit the stands bearing the cover below, Diana, Princess of Wales was killed in a car crash and every newspaper in the world suddenly had a headline that was eerily similar to the subhead in this one.

DC Comics

3. SUPERMAN AND THE CHALLENGER DISASTER

DC Comics

There's no explanation for why there are so many Superman comics on this list, but just as strange is the number of items that involve comics creator John Byrne.

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch, killing all seven crew members including school teacher Christa McAuliffe. John Byrne had just completed the first issue of his new Man of Steel limited series which would introduce a brand new iteration of Superman to DC Comics. However, in the issue was a scene where Superman saves a space shuttle that was carrying a special passenger—reporter Lois Lane.

Byrne quickly redrew the scene so as to avoid seeming insensitive, replacing the shuttle with an odd-looking futuristic “space plane."

DC Comics

4. SPIDER-MAN AND THE NEW YORK CITY BLACKOUT OF 1977

Marvel Comics

In Marvel Team-Up #60, Spider-man and the Wasp join forces to fight a villain named Equinox. In the course of their battle, a transformer is blown up and all of Manhattan suffers a blackout. This issue came out on the same week of the great New York City Blackout of July 1977. It should be noted that there hadn’t previously been a major blackout in New York City since 1965. The next one after was in 2003, so to have this comic and an actual real live blackout happen in New York on the same week is pretty amazing.

Oh, and guess who drew this comic? You got it, John Byrne. It doesn’t even end here.There are enough coincidences like this that people took to calling it “The Byrne Curse.”

5. LEX LUTHOR AND THE ATOMIC BOMB

DC Comics

In Superman #38, released in 1946, Lex Luthor terrorizes Metropolis with an “atomic bomb.” This comic had actually been written and produced two years earlier, but when the U.S. government got wind of it they sent agents to the offices of DC Comics to stop publication until they received official permission. At the time, the Manhattan Project was underway and the government did not want the Axis powers to know that they were working on an atomic bomb and were closely monitoring any public mention that could be considered a clue. The folks at DC were not given a reason for the censorship and could only assume they had hit on something sensitive, but they did not know what. Two years later, with the war over, the comic was cleared to be released.

However, not knowing what they had done wrong, DC toed the line too closely for the government's taste a few more times before the war ended. A newspaper strip showing Superman getting bombarded by a cyclotron (atom smasher) and a comic depicting an atomic bomb test were also forced to be delayed.

6. UNCLE SAM AND PEARL HARBOR

Quality Comics

In National Comics #18, released in November of 1941, the Germans attacked Pearl Harbor in a ruse to lure the U.S. Navy away from their primary target—the Eastern seaboard. Not even a month later, on December 7, Pearl Harbor actually was attacked by Japan.

7. SUPERMAN AND THE JFK ASSASSINATION

DC Comics

In Action Comics #309, Superman upped his game of increasingly elaborate attempts to throw people off the trail of his secret identity by having President John F. Kennedy pose as Clark Kent for him. The issue hit the stands the week after Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, too late for DC to recall the issue.

8. DICK TRACY AND THE LINDBERGH BABY

Chester Gould

Whereas the previous items in this list show comic creators inadvertently referencing real life, the next two entries show comics that purposely chose to mirror it.

In March of 1932, the nation was captivated by news of the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's 20-month-old son. Chester Gould, the creator behind the popular daily newspaper strip Dick Tracy, decided to rip this story idea from the headlines. In the comic, Buddy, the son of millionaire John H. Waldorf, is kidnapped and Dick Tracy is put on the case. Readers followed both this and the real Lindbergh case simultaneously, though unlike the real case, Gould’s story had a happy ending. It turns out Buddy was kidnapped by another real-life analogue—Big Boy Caprice, an obvious stand-in for Al Capone who some at the time believed was behind the Lindbergh kidnapping.

In other examples in this list, comic creators tried if they could to avoid similarities to the real event, but here Gould did the opposite. Though it may seem off-putting now, the way Dick Tracy stories drew parallels to real news stories was part of what made it such a big hit to readers at the time. The happy endings supplied the types of escapist fantasy that people wanted to read.

9. SUPERMAN AND THE HOLOCAUST

DC Comics

To celebrate Superman’s 60th anniversary in 1998, DC Comics released a series of comics where Superman time-traveled to different eras of the past 60 years. One of those would be the era of his origins in the 1930s, and they made the risky decision to show Superman intervening during the Holocaust.

The editorial team decided not run any of the writer's references to Holocaust victims as “Jews” or “Jewish,” fearing those words would be taken as slurs. The result was a comic that aimed to educate about a historic event but purposely omitted a key aspect of it. Holocaust scholars and the Anti-Defamation League raised concerns once they learned of the comic, and DC quickly offered an apology. The ADL accepted, saying, "The intention was OK but the execution wasn't. One can get so locked in trying not to offend, you offend."

10. DONALD DUCK DISCOVERS METHYLENE

Walt Disney/Western Publishing

Published in 1944, Walt Disney Comics and Stories #44 showed Donald Duck receiving a nasty bump to the noggin causing him to become “the mightiest chemist in the universe.” He begins spouting out chemical equations, one of which—CH2—happens to be the formula for methylene, an unknown compound at the time. It would turn out to be the first published mention of methylene, and the panels below would be used as a footnote in the 1969 paper “The Spin States of Carbenes” by P.P. Gaspar and G.S. Hammond as well as other academic papers in following years.

The man behind this Donald Duck comic is the famous Carl Barks, known during his career as “the good duck artist” whose Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics foretold more than just the invention of methylene.

[h/t: Cracked.comGoodComics.com]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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