CLOSE
Original image

Where Are They Now? Dot-Com CEOs

Original image

Much has been written about the iconic American brands that have recently left the corporate landscape. Names like the bankrupt Circuit City and the nowhere-to-be-found Pontiac are casualties of the Great Recession, and there are most likely more to come. But every downturn means the end of the road for certain companies. Just a few years ago, brands like Kozmo, Flooz and Pets.com were going to change the way we all shop. So what happened to the CEOs of those dot-com casualties? We caught up with a few of them.

1. Jared Polis: BlueMountainArts.com

Artist Stephen Schutz and poet Susan Polis Schutz had been running greeting card company Blue Mountain Arts for several decades before their son took the business online and co-founded bluemountainarts.com. But Jared really caught the attention of the e-business world when he sold the company to Excite@Home in a deal worth $780 million. (Later, Excite sold the company for $200 million.) In 1998, he launched ProFlowers.com, a web company selling flowers direct from growers to consumers, which expanded to become Provide Commerce, which was then acquired by Liberty Media Corporation. In 2006, he founded Techstars, a seed incubator for web startups, and in November 2008, Mr. Polis was elected to the United States Congress to represent the second Congressional district of Colorado. Today, Fortune estimates his personal wealth at $160 million.

2. Joseph Park and Yong Kang: Kozmo.com

Remember when you could get a pint of Cherry Garcia, a Snickers and the New York Times delivered at 2:00am? Those were the days. And that's also the reason Kozmo is no more. The company's unsustainable business model promised free delivery of anything, in under an hour. And they lost money on every delivery. The two founders, Joseph Park and Yong Kang, took different paths after they closed shop. Park went to Harvard Business School and is now running Askville, a community site operated by Amazon.com. As for Yong Kang, he returned to Wall Street, and as of May 2008 listed his occupation as investment banking at Lehman Brothers. Rough decade.

3. Greg McLemore: Pets.com

pets-com.jpg
Before the dot-com bubble burst, there were about a half-dozen pet supply sites on the web, all getting ridiculous amounts of venture capital money (that should've been our first clue). After Pets.com went bankrupt in 2000, CEO Greg McLemore went on to create other start-ups. According to his LinkedIn page, he started stock footage company eFootage in 2003 and DataRefinery (a company developing a set of web based software tools) in 2006. He also hopes to sleep sometime around 2012, but that's subject to change.

4. Ernst Malmsten and Kajsa Leander: Boo.com

Boo.com was the brainchild of Ernst Malmsten, a poetry critic, and Kajsa Leander, a former Vogue model, who grew up together in Sweden. In the 90s, they wanted to create a website where the most fashionable people would buy their clothes, and before they had sold a single item, Fortune magazine had christened them "one of Europe's coolest companies." After the highly publicized launch, it took all of 18 months for the company to burn through $135 million in venture capital before closing down in May of 2000. Now, Kajsa Leander lives in Venice with her husband, raising their three children, and Ernst Malmsten runs a London-based agency that represents architects, fashion designers, graphic designers and other creative types. He also wrote a book about the experience called Boo Hoo: a Dot.com Story. As for Boo.com, it's now a travel website with user-generated reviews...no sign of Miss Boo anywhere, though.

5. Robert Levitan: Flooz.com

flooz.jpgFlooz was the Whoppi Goldberg-promoted site that offered redeemable credits when consumers purchased specific products. A lack of interest and a little fraud (apparently, parties within the Russian mafia were using Flooz as a money laundering vehicle) forced the company to shut down in 2001. As for the CEO, Robert Levitan (who had previously founded iVillage) went on to create Yearlook Enterprises and Pando Networks, a company that provides peer-assisted content delivery. These dot-com guys are quite the overachievers, aren't they?

6. Josh Harris: Pseudo.com

Josh Harris was one of the most interesting characters of the web 1.0 days. The founder of both Jupiter Communications and Pseudo.com (a live audio and video webcasting website), Harris became notorious for his six-month, $600,000 project "We Live In Public," a Big Brother type concept in which he placed more than 100 artists in a New York City human terrarium, capturing every move the artists made. After Pseudo.com filed for bankruptcy in 2000, Harris literally bought the farm: a 153-acre apple orchard in New York, which he sold in 2006. These days, Mr. Harris is the CEO of the African Entertainment Network based in Sidamo, Ethiopia. I'm sure he's capturing the entire experience on video.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES