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8 Intriguing Pairs (and Trios) Who Died on the Same Day

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"Death comes in threes" is a popular maxim. In the world of fame and celebrity, however, it seems that death usually comes in twos. Some unusual duos have died on the same day: Mahatma Gandhi and Orville Wright, Jayne Mansfield and Primo Carnera, Luis Bunuel and David Niven. A few months ago, I looked at some uncanny celebrity birth twins. Here are some of those who were linked by death.

1. John Adams & Thomas Jefferson (July 4, 1826)

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, of course, were among the greatest of America's founding fathers. They worked together on the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and would become the second and third Presidents of the United States. Over the next few decades they would have a changing relationship, in which they frequently switched between close friendship and bitter political rivalry, before keeping an affable correspondence in their final years. In 1826, as he lay dying, 90-year-old Adams' final words were: "Thomas Jefferson survives." In fact, Jefferson had died, aged 83, only hours earlier. Significantly, it was July 4 "“ exactly 50 years since the Declaration of Independence was approved. (Another former president, Jefferson protégé James Monroe, would died on the same date in 1831 "“ suggesting that "died on the fourth of the July" might be a more fitting motto for patriots.)

2. Aldous Huxley, President John Kennedy & CS Lewis (November 22, 1963)

Despite all the tributes that are bestowed the newly departed, death can occasionally be very humbling. On any other day, the deaths of British authors like the beloved fantasy writer CS Lewis (best-known for the Narnia series) and novelist Aldous Huxley (Brave New World) would have been big news. However, the deaths of the two gentlemen were upstaged, like anything else that happened that week (or that year), by the shocking assassination of President Kennedy.

3. Jean Cocteau & Edith Piaf (October 11, 1963)

Of all modern French artistes, probably none have the same legendary status as songbird Edith Piaf and multifaceted genius (poet, novelist, artist, filmmaker, actor, singer, stage and fashion designer) Jean Cocteau. Fittingly, the two legends converged on a few occasions. In 1940 Cocteau wrote the play Le Bel Indifférent (The Beautiful Indifferent) for Piaf and her then husband, Paul Meurisse. (The play was credited with the end of their marriage, which perhaps was Cocteau's plan.) In the early 1950s, after Piaf's career had faded, Cocteau saw her singing in a Parisian dive, and wrote an article about her talents that revived her career. According to legend, Cocteau found out about Piaf's death on the morning of October 11, said "Ah, la Piaf est morte. Je peux mourir aussi" ["Ah, Piaf's dead. I can die too"], and promptly died of a heart attack. This might not have been his smartest move, as Piaf upstaged him, closing down the streets of Paris as 40,000 fans mobbed her funeral. Cocteau's own passing could not compete with that. (He was 74, while she was a tragically young 47.)

4. Orson Welles & Yul Brynner (October 11, 1985)

The great actor and filmmaker Orson Welles was known for his mammoth ego "“ something he had no trouble admitting. "I wouldn't act a role if it was not felt as dominating the whole story," he once said. Chances are, he wouldn't have been happy that his death didn't take up the entire obituary sections, sharing them with another great Hollywood scene-stealer, Yul Brynner. To make things worse, Brynner continued to appear regularly on television, reminding everyone of his death. As he was dying of smoking-related cancer, he had recorded a public service announcement with a simple message: "Don't smoke. Whatever you do, just don't smoke." As Welles famously enjoyed puffing on cigars, this would have annoyed him even more.

5. Milton Berle, Dudley Moore & Billy Wilder (March 27, 2002)

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When legendary comedian Milton Berle died in 2002, it was a double bill with another theatre and television comedy star, British musician and actor Dudley Moore. To add even more misery for comedy fans, film director and writer Billy Wilder "“ not exclusively a humorist, but also known for great comedies like Some Like It Hot and The Apartment "“ also died that day. "I hear you, Milton," said comedy writer Larry Gelbart at Berle's funeral. "Sorry, I know you work alone."

6. Diana Kraft & Kent Kraft (February 9, 2008)

Unlike most people on this list, these two were not celebrities. However, few lives have been so intertwined as in the curious case of Kent Kraft and Diana Schroder. Both born on September 2, 1941 (in different parts of South Dakota), they married in Sioux Falls in 1964. Diana had been suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease for some time when she passed away in 2008. Kent, who had been briefly ill, died the same day, right next to her "“ ensuring that, when they died, they were the same age to the day.

7. Michelangelo Antonioni & Ingmar Bergman (July 30, 2007)

These two directors, giants of European arthouse cinema, were often mentioned in the same breath during their lifetimes. They both directed their first features in 1950, became commercially successful with "difficult" films, and were noticed in the US through university film societies (in which many students worshipped Antonioni and despised Bergman, or vice versa). When they died on the same day (Bergman at 89, Antonioni at 94), New York Times film reviewer A.O. Scott wrote that: "In their prime, Mr Antonioni and Mr Bergman were seen as the twin embodiments of the idea that a filmmaker could be, without qualification or compromise, a great artist."

8. Tom Hanson & Richard Nicholas (March 10, 2009)

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Canadians are probably familiar with at least one photo from the impressive portfolio of award-winning Canadian Press photojournalist Tom Hanson. In 1990, during a tense standoff with police in Quebec, Hanson snapped a masked Mohawk warrior "“ arm raised, rifle in hand "“ standing atop an overturned police van. This was land rights campaigner Richard Nicholas, and the photo became a famous symbol of the campaign. Less than 20 years later, both men died on the same day "“ and both at the young age of 41. Hanson collapsed playing hockey and died a few hours later. Meanwhile, Nicholas (whom he never actually met) was killed in a car crash. "To think that the very man who took that picture died on the same day at the same age — how miraculous is it that something like that would happen?" said Nicholas' cousin Sonya Gagnier. "At that pinnacle moment in 1990 they crossed paths, and then they crossed paths again. It's another pinnacle point."

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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