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7 Big Ticket Splurges on eBay

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Since the online auction giant's founding in 1995, millions and millions of items have changed hands through its interface. Most of them probably sold for no more than a few dollars, but some have been truly, ludicrously expensive. Here's a look at some of the priciest items ever sold on eBay, plus some other noteworthy big ticket splurges and a few recent jaw-droppers.


A Gigayacht
When Fort Lauderdale boat maker 4Yacht fires up its eBay account, it doesn't mess around. In 2006, 4Yacht claimed to have sold the most expensive item eBay had ever seen when it auctioned off a 50% deposit on its as-yet-unbuilt "Gigayacht." The 50% deposit sold at a Buy It Now price of $85 million. The 405-foot steel yacht sounds like it was worth every penny of its eventual $170 million price. The plans included 10 multilevel VIP suites, a theater, a workout room, and a helicopter garage. When the auction closed, it was widely speculated that Russian billionaire and Chelsea F.C. owner Roman Abramovich had purchased the giant boat to add to his considerable personal navy. If you're scoring at home, using eBay's current fee schedule, the final value fees alone for such a large auction would amount to over $1.2 million.

Gulfstream II jet
Prior to the sale of the gigayacht, the record for eBay's most expensive item was believed to be held by a Gulfstream II private jet that was sold in August 2001. A Texas-based airline dealer sold the jet to an African charter company for a whopping $4.9 million. And yet, the seller still only got a single point of positive feedback for the transaction.

A Condotel
condotel.jpg

At the time of this writing, the most expensive item on eBay that currently has bids is a 131-room condotel in the heart of Kissimmee, Florida. The convenient-to-Disney hotel is just 18 years old, sits on two acres of land, and even has its own maid's bathroom. It's got quite a bit of time left, and the bid is currently a hair north of $1.5 million. Of course, even if you can convince yourself that giving a user who's never completed a sale millions of dollars, nothing will quell your nagging worry that the term "condotel" is an egregious assault on the English language.

A Castle
Of course, not all bidders value proximity to Epcot above all other attributes. If you're looking for something a little more regal, you can purchase what's described as a "big castle" in Wroclaw, Poland. Although the reserve price has not yet been met on this hundred-year-old castle, the bidding has been furious and has already reached $350,300. Really, that's a small price to pay for the ability to give directions to your house that include "Turn left at the sign"¦yeah, it's the castle"¦"

Sonnets
Did you lose your copy of the sonnets of 15th-century Italian poet Matteo Maria Boiardo? Too bad you're a week late, or you would have been able to replace it on eBay last week. A copy of "Sonetti e Canzoni" sold on Wednesday for a whopping EUR 155,000, or roughly $242,200. Think about that the next time you complain about your textbooks being too expensive.

Black Betsy
You might remember baseball legend Shoeless Joe Jackson as one of the central figures in the Black Sox scandal in which White Sox players allegedly threw the 1919 World Series. Gambling accusations aside, Jackson was a mighty batter, and his bat Black Betsy was always perched on his shoulder. In August 2001 Betsy went to auction on eBay, and she shattered the record for bat prices by closing at $577,610, nearly doubling the former record of $320,000 held by a bat Babe Ruth had used to club a home run in 1929.

The birthplace of a punchline's designer
Selling someone the Brooklyn Bridge is a beloved joke that's tricked its shared of rubes throughout the years. Now, you can get one step closer to the real thing by buying the birthplace of J.A. Roebling, the German engineer who designed the bridge. The house, which is at least 200 years old, is located in Mulhausen, Germany. You can pick it up for just $14,741,150. Bad news for international buyers, though: the page tells me that the 3,300-square-foot home cannot be shipped and is only available for local pickup.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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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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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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