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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous...Criminals

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If you sell your soul to the devil, you might as well have something nice and shiny to show for it, right? If these dirty dealers didn't know how to live good, they sure knew how to live well.

1. Leona Helmsley (1920"“2007)

The famous New York real estate mogul and class A witch lived the American Dream. Well, except for the whole prison thing. Leona was a divorced sewing factory worker with mouths to feed before she met and married real estate tycoon Harry Helmsley (the fact that he was already married mattered little). In 1980, Harry named Leona president of his opulent Helmsley Palace Hotel, which she ruled like a despot. Her tendency to explode at employees for the smallest infraction (like a crooked lampshade) earned her the title "Queen of Mean." But the tyranny didn't exactly last.

In 1988, Leona and Harry were indicted for a smorgasbord of crimes, including tax fraud, mail fraud, and extortion. And after numerous appeals, Leona served 18 months in prison and was forced to pay the government $7 million in back taxes. A healthy dose of irony for the woman who once said, "Only the little people pay taxes." Of course, that doesn't mean things turned out that badly for poor Leona. At the time of her death, her estate was worth over $4 billion "“ $12 million of which she left to her white Maltese, Trouble.

2. Mother Mandelbaum (1818"“1894)

mother.jpegOne of New York City's earliest criminal godfathers was actually a godmother. Frederika "Mother" Mandelbaum, or "Marm" to her friends, was the top "fence" (buyer and seller of stolen goods) in post"“Civil War New York. From 1862 to 1882, she's estimated to have processed almost $10 million in stolen stuff. In fact, Mandelbaum made enough money to purchase a three story building at 79 Clinton Street. Running her business out of a bogus haberdashery on the bottom floor, and living with her family in opulence and comfort on the top two floors, "Mother" often threw lavish dinners and dances for the criminal elite, which included corrupt cops and paid off politicos. Ma Mandelbaum could afford to eat well, too, and allegedly tipped the scales at over 250 pounds. But like any good criminal, she gave back. Well, kind of. Mandelbaum ran a school on Grand Street where orphans and waifs learned to be professional pickpockets and sneak thieves. She was finally arrested in 1884, but fled to Canada with over a million dollars in cash before the trial. She remained there in comfort and safety until her death in 1894.

3. Pablo Escobar (1949"“1993)

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Picture every stereotypical South American drug dealer you've ever seen in a movie. They're all based in part on Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, head of the Colombian Medellin cartel. Escobar ran his empire from a lavish pad complete with Arabian horses, a miniature bullfighting ring, a private landing strip, a Huey 50 helicopter, and a private army of bodyguards. Clearly, money was no object. After all, he could afford to pay local authorities $250,000 each to turn a blind eye. Plus, he used his money to build schools and hospitals, and was even elected to the Colombian senate. But eventually the pressure from authorities, including the American DEA, got to be too much, and he turned himself in.

Of course, incarceration didn't stop him from living the lush life. Escobar used some of his loot to convert his prison into a personal fortress, even remodeling all the bathrooms and strengthening the walls. Once he left, he was a fugitive again, but he wasn't hard to track down. An obsessive misophobe, Escobar left a conspicuous trail of dilapidated hideouts with shiny, expensive new bathrooms. In the end, the cocaine kingpin was killed when the secret police tracked his cell phone to an apartment, stormed the building, and shot him. Many, many times.

4. L. Dennis Kozlowski (1946"“ )

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OK, so he's not a criminal in the classic "bang bang, shoot 'em up" kind of way. But this guy still has it coming. The former CEO of Tyco International, along with CFO Mark Swarz, allegedly embezzled an estimated $600 million from his company, its employees, and its stockholders. He borrowed $19 million, interest free, to buy a house, a debt that the company then forgave as a "special bonus." He got an $18 million apartment in Manhattan and charged the company $11 million more for artwork and furnishings, including a $6,000 shower curtain and $2,200 garbage can. He even threw his wife a little 40th birthday soiree on the island of Sardinia that cost the company over two million clams. Special musical guest: Jimmy Buffett. And while a mistrial was initially declared in April of 2004, the best lawyers couldn't keep Kozlowski and his cohorts from changing residences from their very big houses to the Big House.

5. Al Capone (1899"“1947)

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He killed people. He bought cops by the precinctful. He bootlegged liquor. He ran Chicago like his own personal kingdom. He was damn good at what he did, and he did it with style. Al Capone (aka Scarface) maintained a swank Chicago headquarters in the form of a luxurious five room suite at the chic Metropole Hotel (rate: $1,500 a day). And when those Chicago winters proved a little too chilly for him, he bought a 14 room Spanish style estate in Palm Island, Florida, which he spent millions turning into a well decorated fortress. Capone's total wealth has been estimated at over $100 million (not a penny of which was kept in his vaults, as Geraldo Rivera learned on live TV). Not bad for a guy whose business card said he was a used furniture dealer. Of course, he didn't pay taxes on any of it, which is what eventually sent him up the river.

That Geraldo clip never gets old:

This list was taken 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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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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