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26 Hauntingly Beautiful Photos of Abandoned Homes Across America

“To find beauty in the most grotesque things is a gift,” says photographer Seph Lawless, whose interest in forgotten places and people have led him (and his camera) to abandoned shopping malls, shuttered amusement parks, and post-Katrina New Orleans. For his latest project, a new photo book and e-book titled Hauntingly Beautiful, Lawless trains his lens on a host of abandoned homes, which are as stunning to look at as they are eerie to witness.

“My goal with the project is to challenge and hopefully inspire the viewer to see beauty in even some of the most grotesque things that we see,” Lawless tells mental_floss. “It's been an ongoing theme with most of the projects that shows a different perspective of America that exemplifies some of America's greatest ills.”

See more of Lawless’ work on his Website, or by following him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.

This house in Brush Park, Michigan may not look familiar now—but wait until next year. "It's being used as Batman's mansion for the upcoming movie Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice," says Lawless, who was "hired as a location scout for the production after the assistant director saw my image of that house in the news."

An up-close look at Detroit's blight.

In 2013, Cleveland police arrested 35-year-old Michael Madison, a suspect in at least three murders. Believing that he hid the bodies of his victims in nearby abandoned homes, they searched several—including this one, in East Cleveland.

"The legend is that this home is haunted by a father and son that died during a hunting accident," explains Lawless of this house in Nova, Ohio. "The boy shot the father by accident then the boy committed suicide."

Beware of witch! According to Lawless, many believe that this house in Milan, Ohio is haunted, "based on several people believing a witch was buried on the property that may have even predated the home itself. The house was eerily abandoned with an equally abandoned barn, but was partially in use when I noticed a huge bison the size of a truck stump out of the barn into the grazing yard—oddly out of place and almost as if it was guarding something."

A forgotten home in Geneva, Ohio.

Located in a rural town near the border of Mississippi and Louisiana, this "beautiful former plantation home had several rooms that appeared to be rooms where slaves were housed," says Lawless. "Some walls were even marked with sharp objects similar to some abandoned prisons I've shot. That home was pretty emotionally draining to photograph."

Texarkana, Arkansas is the site of one of the country's most infamous unsolved serial killers, known as The Phantom Killer or The Moonlight Murders. "That abandoned house is near the first road which was used as a murder site," says Lawless.

What was once a home in Philadelphia.

The interior and exterior of an abandoned house in Pittsburgh.

The day after shooting in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, this house—which appears on the cover of Hauntingly Beautiful)—collapsed. "These are the last images ever taken and my feet fell through the floors several times photographing it," says Lawless. "It felt as though it would collapse at any moment and I was shocked to see it had collapsed just hours after I was inside it. Truly frightening and still gives me chills thinking about it."

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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