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10 Bizarre Divorce Settlements

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Divorce is almost always a messy business, but certain settlements between former beloveds end up being downright absurd. Forget child custody, what happens when a couple has shared possession of a goat? Have a look at 10 examples of offbeat divorce settlements.

1. Now That's a Breakup Record

marvin-gayeMarvin Gaye was a tremendous singer, but he wasn't always so great at keeping track of his personal finances. He spent lavishly, which meant that he often couldn't cover his bills. He was having particularly big trouble footing the bill for his 1977 divorce from Anna Gordy, so Gaye's lawyer worked out a novel settlement: Gaye would record a new album and give all of the royalties to Gordy as alimony. Gaye headed into the studio and recorded the double album Here, My Dear to fulfill this deal with Gordy. Unfortunately for Gordy, critics and audiences didn't love Gaye's divorce-themed concept album; although today's critics praise the album it was the singer's worst charting record of the 1970s.

2. Don't Hassle His Attorney, Either

As part of actor David Hasselhoff's 2008 divorce settlement with ex-wife Pamela Bach, he got to keep total possession of the nickname "Hoff" and the catchphrase "Don't Hassle the Hoff."

3. Let Us Now Divide Any Shared Organs

Earlier this year, Long Island's Dr. Richard Batista made an odd request during his divorce: he wanted his cheating wife to return the kidney he'd given her.

Dr. Batista gave his wife, Dawnell, a kidney in 2001 and as part of the messy divorce, he claimed that he would either like the organ or compensation of $1.5 million. Legal scholars were skeptical of Batista's request given that a) organ donation is legally a gift, not a loan and b) losing her ex-husband's kidney would have been ruinous for Dawnell Batista's health.

4. If Only Divorce Lawyers Had Their Own Nobel

nobelNobel laureates may be some of the world's smartest people, but even they can bungle their divorce settlements. Take Robert Lucas, the 1995 winner of the economics prize. As part of his 1988 divorce settlement, his ex-wife got half of the funds from any future Nobel win, so when Lucas picked up the prize in 1995, he forked over half of the cash to his ex. Lucas must have been particularly irritated that the divorce settlement clause actually expired in 1995, so if he had nabbed the Nobel in 1996 he wouldn't have had to share his brainy booty.

Lucas could at least take comfort in knowing he was in good company. All of Albert Einstein's prize money from his 1921 win in physics went to his ex-wife, Mileva Maric.

5. At Least This Is Equitable

Cambodian couple Moeun Sarim and Vat Navy had been married for 18 years when they decided to part ways last year. Husband Moeun accused his wife of infidelity, so he decided to take the whole "splitting everything 50-50" concept to its logical conclusion. Moeun had his family come over and cut away half of the couple's 20' x 24' house. While his wife's half of the marital home remained standing, he deconstructed his own portion and carried the building supplies back to his parents' home.

6. Man Really Gets His Wife's Goat

Australian Steve Killeen managed to get his ex-wife's goat in their divorce. Literally. When Killeen and his wife split, he ended up with her pet goat, which he now takes for daily walks through Sydney.

7. Better Than Hotel Soaps

When hotelier Conrad Hilton married the younger Hungarian actress and beauty queen Zsa Zsa Gabor in 1942, the union raised some eyebrows. Eventually, Gabor got tired of Hilton and began sleeping with her stepson, Nicky. Hilton and Gabor ended up divorcing in 1947, and she picked up $275,000 in the process. Gabor later joked, "Conrad Hilton was very generous in the divorce settlement. He gave me 5,000 Gideon Bibles."

8. Peter Sellers' Timing Just a Little Off

In 1980, Peter Sellers was in the process of divorcing his fourth wife, Lynne Frederick, when he dropped dead from a sudden heart attack at the age of 54. Unfortunately for Sellers' children, their father hadn't gotten around to amending his will to reflect his cooling feelings for Frederick, and the divorce was not yet finalized. As a result, Frederick inherited Sellers' £4.5 million estate and the rights to all of his work, while the Sellers children got a meager £750 each. Within six months Frederick was married again, this time to celebrity journalist David Frost, but that union only lasted a year.

9. Writer Keeps His Ex Close

Prolific Belgian author Georges Simenon requested an odd stipulation in his 1949 divorce from his wife Tigy. Simenon's ex got a large alimony, one she later said was comparable to a top executive's salary during the 1950s, but she had to live no more than six miles away from Simenon so he could always see his children.

10. Charles and Diana's Divorce Is a Royal Pain

When Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorced in 1996, there were all sorts of odd assets to divvy up. For starters, there was the issue of titles. Diana lost the right to be called "Her Royal Highness," a move that peerage experts said was unprecedented. She did, however, retain the right to live in Kensington Palace, her jewelry, and the right to entertain at St. James's Palace with the Queen's permission. While Diana also picked up a financial settlement of $22.5 million, she lost a variety of honorary military titles as well.

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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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May 23, 2017
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