CLOSE
Original image

5 Things You Didn't Know About Mikhail Prokhorov

Original image

It looks like Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has reached a deal to buy the floundering New Jersey Nets. What's Prokhorov's story, though? We did some digging, and here are five things you probably don't know about the man who could become the NBA's next owner.

1. He Got His Start in the Jeans Business

Buying an 80% stake in the Nets for an alleged $200 million would put a crunch in most peoples' budgets, but earlier this year Forbes reported that Prokhorov's cash holdings alone might be worth upwards of $5 billion. Unlike many fabulously wealthy men, though, he didn't get any financial help from his family. In fact, he got his start in the jeans business.


Although Prokhorov's parents weren't particularly rich, they were sharp. His mother was the head of a polymer research department at the Moscow Chemicals Institute, and his father also ran a lab. Their son excelled in his studies and attended Moscow State Institute of Finance. After he graduated from college, he got a job at the International Bank for Economic Cooperation in 1989. Prokhorov put his money in an investment vehicle that would only have thrived in the late 80's: an acid-washed jeans company. With the profits from his denim venture, Prokhorov continued to rise up the financial ladder.

2. He Knows His Metals

Although Prokhorov first grew to prominence in the financial sector, he made his serious loot in the mining industry. In 1993 he purchased Norilsk Nickel during the wave of post-Communism privatization and built the Siberian mining company into a natural resources titan. One of his major coups involved investing in specialized Finnish freighters that could move metals around the Arctic without needing icebreakers.

Just how big did Norilsk Nickel get under Prokhorov? In 2005 he spun off all of the company's gold mining assets into a separate company, Polyus Gold. Polyus Gold alone is now worth around $8 billion, and Prokhorov is still chairman of the company's board. He resigned as CEO of Norilsk Nickel in early 2007 and sold his shares in the company for $7.5 billion.

3. He Knows How to Throw a Party

Prokhorov ran afoul of French authorities in 2007 when he hosted a two-week Christmas party for his fellow Russian plutocrats at his chalet in the ski resort Courchevel. This wasn't the normal sort of "Turn down your loud music!" complaint for the cops, though. Police arrested Prokhorov on suspicion of flying prostitutes in from Moscow to service his guests.

A raid on the hotel where many guests were staying resulted in 26 arrests, including Prokhorov and seven beautiful 20-something Russian women. Prokhorov contended that his companions were just friends he had met at Moscow nightclubs. According to Prokhorov, he flew them in for the party and covered all of their expenses, but he didn't expect anything in return other than their company. The billionaire told the police he liked the company of intelligent women and that "to stay young, you have to be surrounded with youth and beauty." When the cops ascertained that none of the women were actually professional call girls or prostitutes, they released everyone without filing charges.

Perhaps the best quote on the whole debacle came from Nicolas Sarkozy, who was a presidential candidate at the time. When told of the charges, Sarkozy quipped, "There's a man who wants to please."

4. He Likes to Win a Bet

A good-looking 44-year-old with a net worth estimated at $9 billion? How could this guy not be Russia's most eligible bachelor? The Russian press hangs on each of Prokhorov's adventures with the young ladies, and he's apparently had quite a few, including reportedly dating supermodel Naomi Campbell.

russiaphA truly bizarre story about Prokhorov's love life broke in the spring of 2007. The oligarch was supposedly planning a $10-million wedding on Maldives in which he would marry an unknown woman. This wasn't going to be a storybook wedding, though; Prokhorov was allegedly marrying the woman only to divorce her one week later. Why would he act so erratically? To win a childhood bet. According to the Russian press, Prokhorov had made a bet with a childhood friend—both the stakes of the wager and the friend were unknown—that he would be married before his 42nd birthday. Russian reality TV host and socialite Ksenia Sobchak (pictured), also known as "Russia's Paris Hilton," even claimed that she would be the mysterious bride.


Despite all the fuss in the European press, Prokhorov's birthday passed without a wedding, and the real secret behind Prokhorov's love life remains a mystery.

5. He's a Sports Nut

cskaProkhorov may see the Nets as a good investment, but he's also the sort of sports fanatic who might be Russia's equivalent of Mark Cuban. Prokhorov is extremely tall—estimates range from 6'6" to 6'9"—and played basketball in his youth. He already owns a piece of CSKA Moscow, one of the top hoops teams in Europe.


He's not just a basketball fan, though. Earlier this summer there were rumors that Prokhorov might try to buy the Italian soccer team AS Roma, and although the team has denied any sale, there are still whispers that Prokhorov may end up in the soccer business as well. Forbes also notes that the oligarch "loves kickboxing."

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' usually appears on Friday, but we moved it up this week. Read the previous installments here.

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