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The Quick 10: What the Descendants of 10 Dictators Have Been Up To

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If you took my Scents and Sensibilities Quiz, you already know that Svetlana Stalin had her own line of perfume. And if haven't already taken my quiz, now you can be sure to get at least one right. If this seems like a surprising fact, wait until you see what the descendants of other dictators have been up to"¦

alessandra1. Alessandra Mussolini, the daughter of Benito Mussolini's son and his first wife, Anna Maria Scicolone (who also happened to be Sophia Loren's sister). Alessandra has been all over the place "“ she's been a Playboy model, an actress and a singer. The album was only released in Japan, though, and is apparently quite the collector's item. She was also the leader of a right-wing political party and kicked the minister for equal opportunities on a talk show. It happens at about 43 seconds into the linked video, if you're interested.
2. Svetlana Alliluyeva, Joseph Stalin's daughter, defected to the United States in 1967. Sometime in 1970, she was contacted by Frank Lloyd Wright's widow, who believed that Svetlana was a reincarnation of her daughter, who died in a car crash in 1946 (her name was also Svetlana). The widow Wright (the widow Lloyd Wright?) wrote Svetlana letters encouraging her to come visit Taliesin West, and when she did, she was promptly introduced to Wes Peters, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's apprentices"¦ and also the widower of Svetlana #1. Is this making sense? It's quite the tangled web. Basically, the widow Wright arranged for the "reincarnation" of her daughter to remarry her husband only three weeks after their introduction. The marriage lasted only 20 months.

3. Valentin CeauÅŸescu, Nicolae Ceausescu's adopted son, is a nuclear physicist.

4. Marko Milosevic, Slobodan's son, basically seems to be a thug. He was one of the most-feared people involved in his father's regime and ran a nightclub called Madonna and a theme park called Bambiland. He was charged with threatening a demonstrator with a chainsaw in 2001, but by the time the charges were brought up, he had fled to Moscow. He gave an interview in 1991 and said, "I have to have a girl and music and a car and gun. I would like guns to remain my passion." So that's"¦ good"¦

zury5. Zury Rios Sosa, the daughter of Guatemalan dictator General Efrain Rios, married Illinois Congressman Jerry Weller. Her father presided over some of the wedding and added his wisdom to the proceedings, including "the husband is the brains of his woman ... who should be loved like the church loves Christ." Zury Rios Montt Sosa de Weller still serves in the Guatemalan government and fully supports her father, saying, "My father is my inspiration."
6. Alina Fernandez, Fidel Castro's estranged daughter, is a commentator for CNN. Her specialty, of course, is Cuba and Cuban politics. She also hosts a radio show in Miami and has released a book called Castro's Daughter: An Exile's Memoir of Cuba. It has been optioned for a film by the producer of Crash, The Black Donnellys and Million Dollar Baby.

7. Faisal Wangita, the son of Idi Amin (one of 43 of his children), is in prison. Go figure. In 2007, he was convicted for being part of a gang in North London that stabbed and bludgeoned an 18-year-old man to death. The man was part of a rival gang. Wangita was cleared of murder charges, but found guilty of conspiracy to wound, conspiracy to possess offensive weapons and violent disorder.

borgy8. Ferdinand Martin "Borgy" Manotoc, the grandson of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, interns for Manolo Blahnik. I'm kidding. He's a model and celebrity, kind of famous for being famous, as far as I can tell. And looking at this picture, all I can think is "Blue Steel."
9. Ayesha Qaddafi, the daughter of Muammar al-Gaddafi, is a lawyer who served on Saddam Hussein's defense team. Her brother, Saadi, played professional soccer for Libya and Perugia for a while, but it seems to have run its course: his 2006-2007 season with U.C. Sampdoria didn't give him a single second of playing time during a game. He has since tried to pursue the movie business and approached Harvey Weinstein about filming a movie about Hannibal in Libya, but Weinstein abruptly cut him off, saying that Libya would have to recognize Israel before Miramax would do any business with them. Saadi laughed about his first Hollywood encounter, saying, "The first touch was a very hot touch." Another brother, Moatassim, was caught trying to buy tanks and short-range missiles for her personal army. Moatassim said his father was pretty amused by that and admonished him with, "These are very aggressive weapons and you are still young, maybe when you get a bit older."

10. Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the self-elected Emperor of the Central African Republic, lived a lavish life that included gold-plated beds and spent the equivalent of his country's gross national product on his coronation ceremony, apparently left behind 62 children who are now destitute. After the French government overthrew his administration in 1979, the government instituted a ban on displaying anything having to do with Bokassa. His children and grandchildren now live on the grounds in outhouses because the main building is too rundown to serve as proper quarters. They've petitioned the government to restore the grounds, saying that the palace might serve as a good tourist attraction.

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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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