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4 Dictators with Infamous Sweet Tooths

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After a busy day of oppressing your own people, murdering your enemies, and conquering foreign lands, sometimes a workaholic dictator just needs to treat himself to a little pick-me-up. These were four guys happy to do just that.

1. Napoléon: Keeping It Short and Sweet

Though he was originally from Corsica, Napoléon seemed to share the French obsession with pastries. In fact, his cook, Antonin Carême, who eventually became a globe-trotting celebrity famous for his sugary confections, first made his reputation with an enormous wedding cake for Napoléon, celebrating his marriage to the empress Josephine. Of course, cakes were just the tip of the icing for the squirrelly French commander. Napoléon's favorite dessert was supposedly a pastry that resembled profiterole, made with chocolate and cream, and he was also said to favor Turkish delight with pistachio filling. Later, when he was in exile on Elba, the sweet-toothed sovereign consoled himself with copious amounts of a sweet dessert wine from Klein Constantia in South Africa.

2. Hitler: Getting His Cake, and Definitely Eating It Too

Adolf probably had the most famous sweet tooth on record. Despite being a vegetarian who also abstained from hard alcohol, Hitler's weakness for candy and pastries was well known, and admirers always made sure to bring a box of chocolates or cake or pastries when they came to see the Führer. So, just how sweet were his teeth?

Hitler was reputed to put seven teaspoons of sugar in each cup of tea.

He also supposedly added sugar to wine because he found it too bitter otherwise, and plied all his guests with ice cream and candy. In fact, Hitler's favorite dessert chef, Gerhardt Shtammer, claims that Hitler asked him to make delectable desserts right up to the very end, when they were trapped in Hitler's bunker with hard-core Nazi holdouts. According to Shtammer, Hitler's favorite desserts were éclairs decorated with little swastikas and strudel.

2 more after the break...

3. Saddam Hussein and His Spider-Hole Snack Attacks

The bizarre contents of Saddam Hussein's residences—velvet paintings of Elvis and all—have provided endless fodder for cocktail conversations. Amid the revelations of Saddam's incredibly bad taste, it was also revealed that Saddam was a bit of a sugar fiend. In his last residence—the "spider hole" where he was finally apprehended in Ad Dawr in December 2003—American soldiers found a refrigerator filled with Mars and Bounty candy bars and 7-Up. Thank God! No longer relegated to the realm of middle school sleepovers, and Little League pizza parties, these snack foods finally broke through to a new demographic: dictators on the run.

4. Fidel Castro: Near-Death by Chocolate

In a country known for its sugar production, the Cuban strongman's well-known fondness for a particular type of chocolate milkshake might very well have led to his demise had the CIA been a little more on top of its game. Among the approximately 600 assassination attempts the CIA is believed to have set in motion against Castro, one infamous failure called for covert agents to sneak poisoned aspirin into El Presidente's daily chocolate shake. And while they succeeded in getting the poison into the beverage, an overeager servant inadvertently foiled the plan by putting the shake in a freezer to keep it cold. It froze and Cuba's temperamental dictator dictated a new one.

Ed. Note: This list was pulled from Forbidden Knowledge.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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