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11 People Who Turned Up Alive at Their Own Funeral

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by Simon Brew

Picture the scene: You’re at a funeral, or are in the process of arranging one, when the person who’s supposed to be in the coffin turns up to see what’s going on. Stuff of imagination? More often than not, yes. But sometimes, it really does happen.

1. THE MAN MISTAKENLY IDENTIFIED BY HIS BROTHER

Gilberto Araujo of Brazil was pronounced dead back in 2012, after his body had been identified at the local morgue by his brother. Family members of the 41-year-old were standing alongside his coffin in mourning when Araujo turned up at the door.

The untimely funeral was a case of mistaken identity: Araujo worked as a car washer in the town of Alagoinhas, Brazil, where there had been a murder. That murder took the life of another car-washer, who apparently looked like Araujo—hence his brother’s confusion. We can only imagine the two weren’t very close.

2. THE WOMAN WHO CONFRONTED THE HUSBAND WHO’D ORDERED HER DEAD

The story of Noela Rukundo made headlines around the world in 2016. A resident of Australia, she had returned home to Burundi to attend the funeral of her stepmother. Unbeknownst to her, her husband had arranged hitmen to take her life while she was there, and they duly grabbed her.

However, these were hitmen with a heart. When they realized her own husband had ordered her killed, they gave Rukundo her freedom and she flew home, approaching her husband at her own funeral to confront him about his plan. He was sentenced to nine years in prison at the end of 2015.

3. THE CHINESE MAN WHO STAGED HIS OWN FUNERAL

Zhang Deyang was 66 years old when he decided to stage his own funeral. He arranged it himself, wondering how many would turn up given that he had never married and had no children. There was a particular reason for his concern—in Chinese culture, the dead are said to have needs, and their graves are supposed to be visited regularly to ensure those needs are met.

In the event, 40 invitees turned up at Deyang’s funeral, along with several hundred others. Yet he wasn’t happy: 20 relatives and friends didn’t show up. “I can’t believe so many relatives and friends don’t care about me,” he was quoted as saying.

4. THE SERBIAN MAN WHO THANKED PEOPLE FOR ATTENDING HIS FUNERAL

There’s more than one example of someone who arranged their own funeral just to see who would turn up. In 1997, Serbian pensioner Vuk Peric posted a fake death notice in his local newspaper, and sent invites to his funeral. He then watched the event from a distance, eventually emerging to reveal that he was, indeed, alive. He thanked the mourners for attending.

5. THE MAN WHO GOT TWO MORE WEEKS.

Seventy-eight-year-old Walter Williams of Mississippi was pronounced dead on February 26, 2014. As CNN reported, the correct paperwork was completed, his body was put into a bodybag, and he was taken to a funeral home.

Yet Williams didn’t make it to his funeral, because when his body was taken to the embalming room, his legs began to move. Then, the coroner noticed him lightly breathing. Williams was alive.

It was, as it turned out, a short-lived reprieve. Just over two weeks later, he passed away for real. The family double-checked. “I think he’s gone this time,” confirmed his nephew.

6. THE REAWAKENING THAT INSPIRED A HOLIDAY

The village of Braughing in Hertfordshire, England, celebrates "Old Man’s Day" on October 2 each year. The tradition dates back to 1571, and the funeral of a local farmer by the name of Matthew Wall. On the way to his funeral, though, one of his pallbearers dropped his coffin.

It’s a good thing he did, because the jolt promptly woke up Wall up. The farmer would live for over two decades more, finally passing away in 1595. His coming back to life continues to be cause for celebration in Braughing.

7. THE BISHOP WHO WOKE UP AFTER TWO DAYS

Nicephorus Glycas was a bishop working in Lesbos, Greece, when he was declared dead on March 3, 1896. In accordance with tradition, his body was left on display in the Methymni church.

It was on the second night of what was known as "the exposition of the corpse" that things took a turn. For Glycas sat up, reportedly demanding to know what all the fuss was about. Turned out, he’d just been having a long nap.

8. THE MAN WHO TURNED UP DRUNK AT HIS OWN FUNERAL

When Ecuadorian man Edison Vicuna went missing for three days, his friends and family assumed the worst. Especially when the body turned up of a man whose face had been severely disfigured following a car accident. A post-mortem was performed, and the corpse was confirmed to be Vicuna’s.

Only it wasn’t. In fact, come his funeral, Vicuna turned up, drunk, causing mourners to scream in horror. The funeral, as you might expect, was halted, and the body was returned to the morgue, where it was properly identified as belonging to someone entirely different.

9. THE WOMAN WHO WOKE UP—THEN DIED FOR REAL

When Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov of Kazan in Russia collapsed at home following a heart attack in 2011, she was quickly rushed to her local hospital. But the journey was apparently in vain; she was soon declared dead.

This story that follows, though, has both good and bad sides to it.

The good part? She was alive. A few days later, as she was lying in her coffin at her own funeral, she woke up. She saw the mourners around her, crying and praying for her, and quickly twigged to what was happening. She reportedly—and understandably—began yelling, and was quickly rushed back to hospital.

However, the shock of what had happened took its toll. As her husband Fagili Mukhametzyanov recalled, “her eyes flapped. However, she just lived for an additional 12 minutes in intensive care prior to dying once more, this time permanently.” Heart failure was ultimately registered as the cause of death.

10. THE MAN WHO TURNED UP TO THE LAST DAY OF HIS FUNERAL

When a government airstrike killed over 100 people near Damascus, Syria last year, one of the casualties was seemingly Mohammed Rayhan. He had been at the local market, which took the force of the blast, and was apparently dead, buried under rubble.

That turned out to be only half-true.

Rayhan’s family and friends organized his funeral, which went ahead a few days later without the corpse. But said friends and family got a very pleasant shock when the man himself turned up at it. Rayhan had been buried under the rubble following the explosion for 36 hours, but eventually managed to free himself. When he arrived at his funeral, he was still covered in the remnants of the rubble in his hair and beard.

11. THE WAITER WHO RETURNED TO LIFE

Twenty-eight-year-old Hamdi Hafez al-Nubi worked as a waiter in Luxor, Egypt back in 2012. It was while he was working one day that he had a heart attack, and apparently perished. He was declared dead, and his family took the body home, washed it according to Islamic traditions, and readied it for his burial at the end of the week.

The fact that al-Nubi was actually alive was spotted by the doctor sent to sign the final death certificate. He took a closer look at the body when he noticed it was still warm, and discovered that al-Nubi was still breathing. He quickly alerted the man’s mother, and what was set to be his funeral turned into a celebration instead.

All photos via iStock.

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

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