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5 Things You Don't Know About 5 Different People

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Editor's Note: Every Friday, Ethan Trex digs up things you might not know about various authors, artists, actors, politicians, athletes and so on. We gave him today off, so we're running excerpts from five previous installments. If there's someone you'd like to learn more about, leave your suggestion in the comments.

Billy Wilder

1. Before He Was a Director, He Was a Gigolo

Wilder was born in Sucha Beskidzka in what is now Poland in 1906, and attended what he later called "the worst high school in Vienna." He eventually ended up at the University of Vienna to fulfill his parents' dreams of becoming a lawyer. Fortunately for the future of film, Wilder didn't love the ivory tower and quickly dropped out of college to become a journalist in Berlin.


It was tough to make ends meet as a writer, though, so Wilder supplemented his income by working as a gigolo. According to the director this was no Midnight Cowboy stuff, though, and Wilder went into the line of work mostly hoping it would make good research for a series of articles. His job mostly consisted of dining, dancing, and chatting with lonely old ladies. In the excellent book-length interview Conversations With Wilder by director Cameron Crowe, Wilder claims that he never got frisky with any clients "because they would come with their husbands"¦and the ladies were corpulent ladies, elderly ladies."

Read more things you didn't know about Billy Wilder.

Grace Kelly

2. Becoming a Princess Wasn't Cheap

rainier-grace-kellyKelly 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?"

Read more things you didn't know about Grace Kelly.

Robert Todd Lincoln

3. He Had a Strange Knack for Being Near Assassinations

robert-toddLee's surrender wasn't the only history Lincoln ended up witnessing, although things got a bit grislier for him after Appomattox. As he arrived back in Washington in April 1865, Lincoln's parents invited him to go see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater with them. The young officer was so exhausted after his journey that he begged off so he could get a good night's sleep. That night, of course, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln's father, and Robert Todd was with the celebrated president when he passed away the next morning.


By 1881, Lincoln's political lineage and prominence as a lawyer qualified him for a national office, and he became Secretary of War under the newly inaugurated James A. Garfield. That July, Lincoln was scheduled to travel to Elberon, New Jersey, by train with the President, but the trip never took off. Before Lincoln and Garfield's train could leave the station, Charles Guiteau shot the Garfield, who died of complications from the wound two months later.

Oddly, that wasn't all for Lincoln, though. Two decades passed without a presidential assassination, but Lincoln's strange luck reared its head again in 1901. Lincoln traveled to Buffalo at the invitation of President William McKinley to attend the Pan-American Exposition. Although he arrived a bit late to the even, Lincoln was on his way to meet McKinley when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at close range.

Following these three bits of bad luck Lincoln refused to attend any presidential functions. He dryly noted that there was "a certain fatality about the presidential function when I am present."

Read more things you didn't know about Robert Todd Lincoln.

John Cazale

4. He Batted a Thousand With the Academy

While Cazale never earned an Oscar nomination himself, his films fared significantly better; every feature film in which he appeared received a nomination for best picture. Three of his films, The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, and The Deer Hunter took home the top prize. The other two films Cazale made during his life, The Conversation and Dog Day Afternoon, both got nominations but didn't win. Here's the real kicker, though: The Godfather: Part III, which didn't come out until 12 years after Cazale's 1978 death, featured archival footage of Cazale in the Fredo Corleone role. It got a best picture nod, too.

Read more things you didn't know about John Cazale.

Lou Holtz

5. A Young Bill Clinton Had His Back

Throughout his coaching career, Holtz insisted that his players perform well on the field and behave off of it. Sounds like a pretty sound policy, but it didn't always make him popular with players or win-at-all-costs boosters. In 1977, Holtz's first season at Arkansas, he found himself in a pickle. Star running back Ben Cowins, top receiver Donny Bobo, and another player were involved in an incident with a woman in a players' dorm. The woman ended up undressed, and when Holtz caught wind of the story he suspended all three players for the Razorbacks' Orange Bowl clash with Oklahoma.

young-clintonRunning back Cowins was a decent NFL prospect, and he needed the national exposure of the Orange Bowl to pump up his draft stock. He hired an attorney who filed a suit seeking an injunction to allow the three suspended players to appear in the Orange Bowl. Once Holtz came under legal fire, the university quickly sought top-notch counsel for him in the form of the Arkansas Attorney General, a promising young lawyer named Bill Clinton.


With the help of Clinton and his staff, Holtz's legal team defended the coach in U.S. District Court, and the players eventually withdrew their lawsuit. Obviously, it was a victory for team discipline, but wouldn't losing the offense's two biggest weapons kill the Razorbacks' Orange Bowl chances against the mighty Sooners? Not quite. Backup running back Roland Sales had an epic 205-yard, two-touchdown game, and the sixth-ranked Arkansas squad crushed number-two Oklahoma 31-6.

Read more things you didn't know about Lou Holtz.

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

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]

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