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8 Haunted Houses You Can Buy Right Now

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In real estate, the only thing more important to buyers than location is whether a property has ever hosted an exorcism. Unfortunately, not all states require disclosure when a home is believed to be haunted. Others, like Massachusetts, compel sellers to admit if something has happened that could result in a “psychological impact” to occupants.

While realtors may not want to get into whether a home has tested positive for blood in the walls, we do. Check out eight houses with haunted histories that you can purchase right now.

1. THE ANN STARRETT MANSION // PORT TOWNSEND, WASHINGTON

As devoted husbands go, George Starrett set a standard. After marrying his fiancé, Ann, Starrett set about constructing a material monument to their romance. Work was completed in 1889 on this eight-bedroom, eight-bath home, which Starrett topped off with a spectacular 70-foot-tall dome tower that features paintings of Ann depicting all four seasons. Used as a bed and breakfast for years, visitors have claimed sightings of a red-haired woman believed to be Ann; others have spotted the couple’s nanny staring back at them from a mirror in what was once her bedroom. Fortunately, the entities appear to be friendly. The house is currently listed as a residential property for $850,000.

2. THE PRIESTLEY HOUSE // CANTON, MISSISSIPPI

Originally built by physician James Priestley in the 1950s, this Greek Revival home stayed in the Priestley family until the 1990s. When new owner Frankie McMillan moved in, she became concerned that Priestley’s wife, Susan, hadn’t gotten the message to clear the premises. McMillan claimed to have seen Susan in hallways and in the bedroom where the woman is believed to have died. The home was restored in 2004 and is listed for $699,000.

3. THE HOUSE ON PLANT AVENUE // WEBSTER GROVES, MISSOURI

From 1906 to 1944, a railroad car salesman named Henry Gehm occupied this 3871-square-foot pad near St. Louis. As legend has it, Gehm had dealings with a circus for transport compartments and somehow came into possession of a bear that he kept tied to a tree in the backyard. The animal’s ghost is now said to haunt the land; prior owner Robert Wheeler told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1975 that he heard footsteps in the third-floor study room. If you’re interested in interacting with a paranormal zoo animal, the home can be yours for $500,000.

4. THE MORTICIAN’S WIFE HOME // DUNSMUIR, CALIFORNIA

Built in 1912, this Victorian located in Southern California has one feature not even most haunted houses can boast of: an on-site mortuary. Once the home of a mortician who used it as a viewing and chapel area—and who was later said to have spent weeks there post-mortem because his wife couldn’t bear to part with him—current owner Brad Warner has reported a fireplace spontaneously extinguishing itself and French doors slamming shut. Yours for $475,000.

5. THE SALLIE HOUSE // ATCHISON, KANSAS

How spooky does a house have to be that its current owner recommends it as an hourly rental? Pretty spooky. The Sallie House in Atchison is up for sale at $499,900 and is being openly marketed as a tourist attraction. The rash of ghost sightings, upside-down picture frames, and other unusual activity has no definitive source, though some believe a young woman named Sallie died of appendicitis in the home. In 1992, when the Pickman family moved in, stories of odd scratches on occupants and a ghost’s eerie propensity to return the TV remote to the armrest made the rounds. When they moved out in 1994, the home became a revolving door of paranormal investigators and other brave spirits.

6. THE WATCHER HOME // WESTFIELD, NEW JERSEY

While not haunted by spirits, this $1.19 million home is still struggling with uninvited attention. After a family closed on the property in 2014, they began to get a series of unsettling letters from an anonymous source. “My grandfather watched the house in the 1920s and my father watched in the 1960s,” one message read. “It is now my time. Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?” In addition to a sadistic voyeur, the home also comes with beautiful hardwood flooring.

7. THE AMITYVILLE HOME // AMITYVILLE, NEW YORK

This might be one of the most infamous addresses in history. In 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. lost his mind and murdered six family members on the premises of 108 Ocean Avenue. In 1975, the Lutz family moved in and promptly reported a series of supernatural occurrences, from strange noises to oozing walls. Their account was turned into a book, The Amityville Horror, and several movies of the same name. Listing agent Gerald O’Nell maintains the accounts were embellished to help DeFeo with his criminal defense. Of the four subsequent owners, he said, “none of them ran out of the house screaming.” And hey, it’s got a sun room. On sale for $850,000.

8. THE MA BARKER HOUSE // LAKE WEIR, FLORIDA

Families surrounding this lakefront property in Ocklawaha probably didn’t think much of the older woman and her four grown sons when they rented a home there in 1934. Weeks later, they found out that the polite “Mrs. Blackburn” was infamous criminal matriarch Ma Barker, who had aided her sons in several kidnapping and robbery excursions. The FBI surrounded the house, firing 2000 rounds of ammunition into it as Ma and son Freddie fired back. By the end, both were dead.

The bullet-riddled home, which was recently up for sale at a price of $889,000, is said to be inhabited by the ghost of Ma, who likes to switch lights on. (Freddie was apparently evicted in an exorcism years ago.) In a strange turn, the owners were able to sell the land earlier this year but not the house itself, which will remain on site until it’s either relocated 800 feet away or dismantled and moved entirely. Marion County is interested in purchasing it and is currently looking for funds to cover the $250,000 asking price.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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