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The Quick 10: 10 Celebrities Who Didn't Go from Rags to Riches

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While a fair number of celebrities come from classic rags-to-riches stories, or at least Gap-to-Gucci stories, there are also some who were born into wealth and success. I'm not saying that they didn't make it in their own right "“ I think our #1 spot on the list has certainly made his own name for himself. But the people on today's Q10 definitely had some connections and privileges that the average person didn't.

anderson1. Anderson Cooper is Gloria Vanderbilt's son, which definitely resulted in a privileged lifestyle: he was photographed by Diane Arbus as a baby, appeared on The Tonight Show at the age of three and modeled for Ford Models between the ages of 10 and 13. But life wasn't all rosy: his dad died when he was just 10 and his older brother committed suicide by jumping out of the window of a 14th-floor apartment building when Anderson was just 21. He graduated from Yale and hoped to get his foot in the door at ABC just answering phones, but couldn't even get that job. Eventually he landed a gig with Channel One as a fact checker and has been on the rise ever since.
2. Chevy Chase's dad, Ned Chase, was a prominent book editor in Manhattan and his mother was the heiress to a plumbing fortune (I didn't know there were plumbing fortunes, either). His parents divorced when he was just four, and each parent re-married "“ his dad, in fact, married into the Folgers coffee family. Despite this, Chevy says he was raised in an upper-middle class family and that his wealthy maternal grandfather didn't leave any money to his mother. He has also stated that his mother and step-father abused him as a child.

3. Carly Simon's dad is the "Simon" of Simon and Schuster: he co-founded it.

4. Barbara Walters is the daughter of Lou Walters, who founded the famous "Latin Quarter" nightclub. As the result of owning such a glamorous joint, celebrities were at her house all of the time and she spent a lot of time at the clubs. "This is where I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and prom nights," she once said. As rich as her dad once was, she said he was also very good at losing it all because of the business gambles he took.

bogie5. Humphrey Bogart's father, Belmont DeForest Bogart, was a heart and lung surgeon. His mother, Maud Humphrey, was a well-known illustrator who studied with James Whistler and was later the art director for a fashion magazine. They lived in a brownstone on the Upper West Side and had a summer home that sat on 55 acres in upstate New York. Because of his family connections, he was admitted to the Phillips Academy prep school in Andover, Mass. But he got expelled. He was raised to believe that, as a profession, acting was uncouth and beneath him. But the late hours and adoring
girls appealed to him, and thus we have one of the greatest film actors of all time.
6. Paul Giamatti is the son of A. Bartlett Giamatti, former Major League Baseball Commissioner and a former President of Yale University. He did, indeed, attend Yale University and was a member of the Skull and Bones society.

7. Linda McCartney was an heiress, but not to the obvious. Her maiden name was Eastman, and when she once told a reporter that her family had nothing to do with the Eastman-Kodak company, Paul feigned being upset and said, "What? I've been had!" But Linda was an heiress: her mother was Louise Lindner Eastman, whose dad founded Lindner Department Stores.

plimpton8. George Plimpton was the son of Francis Plimpton, the Plimpton in the law firm Debevoise and Plimpton, one of the most well-known law firms in the world. Their clients include CNN, Coca-Cola, the NFL, NBC, Sony, the New York Times and Yahoo!
9. Glenn Close's father was once the personal physician to Mobutu Sese Seko, the President of Zaire. Her grandfather was an investment banker and director of the American Hospital Association who was first married to Post Cereals' heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. This didn't make her the heiress to the Post fortune, though "“ Glenn's mother was her father's second wife.

10. Oliver Stone's father was a prominent stockbroker in New York. His dad was anxious for him to follow in the family footsteps and arranged for him to attend all of the best schools and even work at a French financial exchange. He was admitted to Yale but dropped out twice, although he eventually attended film school at NYU. As you can see, that worked out for him.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]