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6 Other Plots to Blackmail Celebrities

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David Letterman has been in the news for helping police foil an attempt to blackmail him, but the late-night star is hardly the first celebrity in this position. Here are a few other brazen—and mostly unsuccessful—attempts to blackmail famous people.

1. Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby may be one of television's most famous family men, but a 1997 extortion attempt tried to claim that his family was a bit bigger than anyone knew. That year, a 23-year-old woman named Autumn Jackson attempted to extort $40 million from Cosby in exchange for not telling the press she was the star's illegitimate daughter. While Cosby admitted that he had an affair with Jackson's mother and had given the woman and her daughter over $100,000 in support over the years, he flatly denied being Jackson's father. Jackson's timing probably didn't help, either; Cosby received her demand the same day Cosby's son, Ennis, was murdered.

Jackson, who was convicted along with two accomplices, received a 26-month prison sentence. An appeals court briefly overturned the sentence in 1999, but quickly reversed itself and sent her back to the clink.

2. Louie Anderson

louieThe hefty comic became a target for blackmail after allegedly propositioning a man in a Las Vegas casino in 1993. At the time, Anderson was hosting Family Feud and starring in the cartoon Life With Louie. Rather than take a hit to his public image, Anderson shelled out $100,000 in hush money to his blackmailer, Richard John Gordon, to keep the story out of the tabloids.

Gordon got greedy in 2000, though. He came back to Anderson for another $250,000, at which point the comedian went to the cops. Gordon ended up being arrested following a high-speed chase from the LAPD, and he eventually went to prison for the extortion attempt.

3. Cameron Diaz

diazA note to any aspiring actresses out there: if you're planning on becoming famous, don't pose for any nude photographs. Just ask Cameron Diaz. In 1992, the young model let photographer John Rutter take nude and bondage-themed snaps of her in the hopes of making an entry into the artistic modeling market. Instead, Rutter sat on the photos until Diaz's 2003 film Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle was about to debut, at which point he made Diaz an offer: she could buy the pictures for $3.5 million, or he would sell them to magazines. Rutter claimed he had a signed release form from Diaz that allowed him to sell the pictures if he so chose.

Rather than give in, though, Diaz alerted the authorities. It turned out that Diaz's "signature" was a forgery, and Rutter was found guilty of attempted grand theft, forgery, and perjury. Although Rutter claimed that he was simply offering Diaz the right of first refusal for the salacious pics, he ended up getting a three-year jail sentence.

4. Elvis Presley

nixon-elvisJ. Edgar Hoover's FBI kept meticulous files on a lot of high-profile entertainers, including the King. When Elvis' file found its way to the public, it revealed a number of blackmail attempts, including one particularly large case from when Elvis was serving in the Army. When Elvis was stationed in Germany in 1959, he hired South African doctor Laurenz Johannes Griessel-Landau to carry out a series of skin treatments on his famous face and shoulders.

After a month, Elvis and his entourage allegedly grew tired of Griessel-Landau constantly making passes at them, so Elvis fired the dermatologist. This angered the doctor, who then threatened to reveal compromising photographs and tapes of the rock star if Elvis didn't open his wallet. Elvis held firm, though, and only gave Griessel-Landau $200 for the skin treatments and a $315 plane ticket back to London. When Griessel-Landau came back for thousands of dollars more, Elvis refused, and the blackmailer—who it turned out wasn't actually a doctor after all—eventually left the King alone.

5. Dante Gabriel Rossetti

You may not be all that familiar with Rosetti unless you paid close attention during your college English or art classes, but he was a big-name English poet, illustrator, and painter during the 19th century and was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His agent, Charles Augustus Howell, wasn't quite as beloved, though, and many thought Howell was a blackmailer. If these allegations were true, they would go a long way towards explaining a particularly odd chapter in the poet Rossetti's life.

Rossetti was married to Elizabeth Siddal, a gorgeous artist and model who served as his muse. When she died unexpectedly in 1862, Rossetti made an oddly touching gesture: he put a journal containing the only copies of many of his poems in her coffin. Seven years later, Howell somehow convinced a broke, alcoholic Rossetti to dig up Siddal's coffin to retrieve the poems. The pair applied to the Home Secretary for permission, and Howell had the coffin exhumed in the middle of the night to get the journal back. It's not clear whether the notorious Howell actually blackmailed Rossetti into disturbing his wife's attempt to rest in peace, but given Howell's reputation, it seems like a reasonable suspicion. In any event, the poems flopped with critics, and Rossetti never really got over exhuming his wife's corpse.

6. Anoushka Shankar

Ravi Shankar's daughter (and Norah Jones' half-sister) Anoushka Shankar found herself in a blackmail mess of her own a few weeks ago. A Mumbai businessman allegedly hacked her email account to gain access to personal pictures, which he then offered to sell to the lovely sitar player for $100,000. The blackmailer, 28-year-old Junaid Khan, didn't get much for his trouble, though; Indian authorities arrested him on September 20.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]