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5 Things You Didn't Know About Doris Duke

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Doris Duke's father died when she was 12 years old. James Buchanan Duke, a tobacco and energy mogul, left his daughter around $100 million, which earned her the title "the richest girl in the world" and made her something of a national celebrity. Duke would spend the rest of her life enjoying a series of high-profile love affairs and dabbling in philanthropy and horticulture. Here are five things you might not have known about the famed heiress:

1. She Really Liked a Man in Uniform

Duke apparently realized that if you're going to fall for a man in uniform, you might as well shoot for the top. That's why she had a high-profile affair with General George S. Patton. The two originally met during Hawaiian vacations; Duke even gave the decorated general some polo ponies as a gift. They later ran across each other in Russia when Duke was traveling as a correspondent for Hearst, and they became lovers. Duke later said that Patton's trademark knee-high boots were "a marvelous turn-on."

2. She Bailed Out Imelda Marcos

In 1988, exiled First Lady of the Philippines and shoe enthusiast Imelda Marcos ran afoul of the American justice system when she was arraigned on federal racketeering charges. According to prosecutors, Marcos and eight other defendants were involved in a fraud and embezzlement scheme that centered on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Manhattan real estate transactions.

Although Marcos and her husband were allegedly worth billions at the time of their arrests, the authorities froze most of the couples' assets, which made posting Imelda's $5 million bail a bit tricky. That's where Duke came in. The heiress had visited the Philippines during the Marcos era and become quite chummy with the First Lady, so Duke rushed to put up her old pal's bond. She even floated Marcos cash to cover her legal fees.

While Duke was quite a philanthropist, she wasn't just giving money to the filthy rich Marcos. Duke amended her will to authorize her executors to recover all of the loans to Marcos once things settled down in the Philippines. [Pictured: Imelda Marcos, Doris Duke, and the 35-year-old woman she adopted. We'll get to her in a moment.]

3. The Government Penned Her Prenup

In 1947, Duke married Dominican playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, who was legendary in Europe for his sexual prowess. Duke allegedly paid Rubirosa's first wife a million dollars to leave him, and their romance quickly took off.

Apparently the rumors about Rubirosa's skills as a lover were true, but other members of Duke's circle were worried about other rumors surrounding the handsome Italian. There were persistent whispers that Rubirosa had worked as a political assassin for the Dominican government, and many were concerned that the playboy might take a crack at bumping off his wealthy wife.

The U.S. government was allegedly so concerned about Rubirosa making off with Duke's fabulous wealth that it decided to intervene to force the groom to sign a prenuptial agreement. The exact details of the story vary. Some versions have government agents drugging Rubirosa and coercing him into signing the prenup, while others have a sober Rubirosa fainting upon learning just how wealthy Duke was. In either event, Duke was probably glad the government interceded on her behalf; her union with Rubirosa only lasted a year.

4. She Adopted a 35-Year-Old Woman

When Duke was 27 years old, she delivered a premature baby daughter who died just 24 hours after being born. The baby's death profoundly affected Duke, and she even hired psychics to try to help her communicate with her lost child.

These tactics didn't seem to work until Duke was 73. When their mutual belly dancing instructor introduce Duke to 32-year-old Hare Krishna devotee Chandi Heffner in 1985, Duke decided that Heffner was the reincarnation of her lost baby daughter. The two women started out as friends, but Duke began lavishing increasingly more extravagant gifts on Heffner, including a 290-acre horse ranch in Hawaii. In 1989, Duke formalized the odd relationship by legally adopting the 35-year-old Heffner.

However, everything didn't turn out beautifully for the mother and her possibly reincarnated daughter. By 1991, the relationship had soured, and Duke negated the adoption of Heffner. Duke's will specifically instructed that her former adopted daughter should not receive any inheritance:

"I am extremely troubled by the realization that Chandi Heffner may use my 1988 adoption of her (when she was 35 years old) to attempt to benefit financially under the terms of trusts created by my father. After giving the matter prolonged and serious consideration, I am convinced that I should not have adopted Chandi Heffner.

"I have come to the realization that her primary motive was financial gain. I believe that, like me, my father would not have wanted her to have benefitted under the trusts which he created, and similarly, I do not wish her to benefit from my estate."

After suing Duke's estate three times following Duke's 1993 death, however, Heffner received a $65 million settlement.

5. She Took Care of Her Butler, Though

When Duke died in 1993, she left behind a $1.3 billion fortune, but she had no heirs. Instead, she left most of her cash to charity; her will named her butler, Irishman Bernard Lafferty, as the estate's sole executor. Lafferty received $500,000 a year for acting as the estate's executor and a $5 million lump sum bequest from Duke.

Duke leaving so much money to her butler raised a lot of eyebrows, and accusations started to fly that Lafferty and Duke's doctor had conspired to hasten the heiress' death. Other skeptics claimed that Lafferty had coerced a sick and confused old lady into leaving him a giant sum of money. The murmurs got so loud that the Los Angeles District Attorney's office investigated the allegations before ruling there was "no credible evidence" that any of them were true.

However, Lafferty wasn't the world's best executor. He allegedly racked up a seven-figure credit card bill buying luxury items for himself immediately following Duke's death, and he dropped the estate's money on things like building a shooting range and buying a pair of miniature horses. Shortly before his death in 1996, he agreed to give up the executor position in exchange for $500,000 a year for the rest of his life.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read 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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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