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5 Things You Didn't Know About Grace Kelly

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From her first major screen role as Gary Cooper's violence-loathing Quaker wife in the classic Western High Noon through her "wedding of the century" and retirement from films to become Princess Grace of Monaco, Grace Kelly made it almost impossible not to stare. Her icy beauty and polished delivery brought something truly unique to each of her parts, so let's take a look at five things you might not know about Grace Kelly.

1. She Probably Could Have Been an Athlete

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When Grace Kelly was born in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1929 to Margaret and Jack Kelly, her athletic pedigree was formidable. Jack Kelly, who ran a wildly successful brick company, was also one of the finest rowers ever to dip his oars in the Schuylkill River. He wasn't just a local phenom, though; Jack had three Olympic gold medals in sculling to his credit. He picked up single and double scull gold at the 1920 Games in Antwerp and then defended his double scull gold with his cousin Paul Costello in Paris in 1924. To underscore just how great he was, Jack Kelly is the only rower in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

Kelly's mother, Margaret, was no slouch, either. She had been a world-beater as a collegiate swimmer at Temple and then became a physical education instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, where she became the Ivy League school's first-ever women's sports coach after she organized a basketball squad.

One of Kelly's three siblings, John Jr., was a formidable athlete in his own right; he rowed in the 1948, 1952, 1956, and 1960 Olympics, picking up a single sculls bronze in Melbourne in 1956. John Jr. gave the medal to his sister Grace as a wedding gift.

2. She Turned Down at Least One Iconic Role

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In 1954 Kelly was all set to costar with Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront when Alfred Hitchcock, with whom she had successfully collaborated on Dial M for Murder, told her to head to Los Angeles for costume fittings for his new film Rear Window. Kelly jumped at the opportunity to work with Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart on the film, so the role of Brando's love interest Edie in On the Waterfront went to Eva Marie Saint, herself a future Hitchcock blonde.

Both films became undisputed classics, but it's hard to imagine Kelly didn't kick herself a little at the 1954 Academy Awards when Saint picked up the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her part in On the Waterfront. Of course, the pain probably didn't last too long, as later in the evening Kelly won the Best Actress statue for her role opposite Bing Crosby and William Holden in The Country Girl.

3. Becoming a Princess Wasn't Cheap

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Kelly met Prince Rainier III of Monaco at a photo shoot in 1955 when she was leading the American delegation to the Cannes Film Festival, and the two instantly hit it off. After she returned to the States, the actress and the prince corresponded until later that year when he came to the U.S. on a diplomatic tour. After spending three days with Kelly and her family, Prince Rainier proposed, and Kelly accepted.

Things aren't so simple when you're marrying a prince, though. To seal the deal, Kelly's family had to cough up a dowry. Luckily, Jack Kelly was every bit as successful in the brick business as he was with the oars, and he forked over a $2 million dowry to help cover the cost of the wedding. (Seems crazy that Grace Kelly would have to pay someone to convince him to marry her, doesn't it?)

With a dowry like that, what kind of engagement ring does a movie star princess get? A gigantic one. Kelly's was a 10.47-carat emerald-cut diamond with a platinum band. If you want to get a look at the ridiculous rock, watch High Society, Kelly's final feature film. She wears the ring throughout, at one point causing Bing Crosby to quip, "Some stone, did you mine it yourself?"

4. Not Even Hitchcock Could Lure Her Back to Movies

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After Kelly's wedding in 1956, she became Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and stopped working as an actress. However, her old director Alfred Hitchcock never gave up on trying to get Kelly to star in another one of his films. Hitchock allegedly planned to use 1962's Marnie as Kelly's big comeback to the silver screen, and the princess agreed to take the part. In March 1962, Monaco's palace spokesman announced that Princess Grace would play the role and then give up acting altogether.

The citizens of Monaco weren't so keen on having their princess return to the movies as a compulsive thief, though. The local press blasted the idea of Kelly making a screen comeback, and France's Charles de Gaulle supposedly pressured Prince Rainier to pull his wife out of the production for fear it would make Monaco appear frivolous. In April, Kelly announced that she was withdrawing from the production, ostensibly due to scheduling difficulties. Tippi Hedren ended up in the title role opposite Sean Connery.

5. She Has a Whole Slew of Tributes to Her Credit

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Prince Grace died in 1982 when she suffered a stroke while driving and drove over a steep embankment. (Contrary to rumor, Kelly's family insists that she was not driving on one of the winding roads she and costar Cary Grant zipped down in Hitchcock's underrated To Catch a Thief.) After a royal funeral that attracted nearly 100 million television viewers, she was laid to rest in Monaco.

Nearly 27 years after her death, tributes to Kelly keep rolling in. In 1993 she became the first American actress to appear on a postage stamp, and in 2007 special commemorative two-euro coins bore her profile. Fashion house Hermes' Kelly bag is named after the actress in honor of her penchant for appearing with the high-end purse.

Even though she didn't join in her family's rowing hobby, Kelly also has a sculling tribute in her honor. In 2003, the Henley Royal Regatta, a major rowing event on the Thames that once snootily rejected Jack Kelly's attempt to participate, renamed its women's quadruple sculls race the Princess Grace Challenge Cup.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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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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