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5 Other Famous Gate Crashers

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It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to crash high profile events. Aspiring reality show stars Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who crashed a state dinner at the White House last week, are just the latest in a long line of publicity-starved trespassers.

1. David Hampton

David Hampton crashed his first gate in 1983 when he was denied entrance to the famously selective disco Studio 54. On the spur of the moment, he informed the bouncer that he was, in fact, David Poitier, son of Academy Award winning actor Sidney Poitier. He was not only immediately ushered inside the club, he was also given the full celebrity treatment. Once he got a taste of the high life, he used his new persona to nab free meals at five star restaurants and to borrow money from and couch-surf at the homes of such celebs as Melanie Griffith, Gary Sinise and Calvin Klein. Hampton was eventually arrested and served time in prison for fraud. His exploits were the inspiration for John Guare's acclaimed play Six Degrees of Separation.

2. Barry Bremen

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Barry Bremen, a marketing executive from West Bloomfield, Michigan, craves the limelight. He nearly made it to the stadium floor at the 1982 Super Bowl by dressing as the San Diego Chicken. He dressed as an umpire in 1980 and confabbed at home plate with Harry Wendelstedt and Don Denkinger at a World Series game before being discovered. He even once crash dieted 23 pounds off of his 6'4" frame, shaved his legs and spent $1,200 on a custom-made Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader costume. He infiltrated Texas Stadium and managed a "Go Cowboys!" yell before security handcuffed him.


Perhaps his most daring escapade came at the 1985 Emmy Awards. Dressed in a tuxedo, he purchased a single $300 ticket for the ceremony and found himself seated in Row Three. As the show progressed, he noted that many of the winners were seated further back in the auditorium and it took them a few minutes to reach the stage. When Betty Thomas' name was announced for Outstanding Supporting Actress (Hill Street Blues), Bremen jumped out of his seat, loped to the stage and accepted the statue, explaining that Thomas was unable to attend. He was arrested backstage (with a confused Betty Thomas looking on) and spent an hour in jail before posting bail.

3. Michael Fagan

To tourists craning their necks at the front gate to see the changing of the guards, Buckingham Palace seems like an impenetrable fortress. But with a combination of determination and plain dumb luck, 31-year-old Michael Fagan bypassed all the security measures in place and ended up in the bedroom of Queen Elizabeth II.

Early in the morning of July 9, 1982, Fagan scaled the 14-foot wall (topped with barbed wire) on the southeast side of the Palace. He climbed inside an open window and then wandered along various corridors. He tripped a silent alarm twice, but both times Palace security simply turned it off, thinking it was an electrical malfunction. He eventually found the unlocked door of the Queen's bedroom and entered. The footman who normally stood guard was outside walking her corgis at the time. Her Majesty awoke to find a strange man sitting on the foot of her bed. With praiseworthy aplomb, she engaged him in conversation and kept him calm; when he asked for a cigarette it gave her an excuse to summon a footman, and Fagan was summarily arrested.

4. Paul Goresh

Paul Goresh is the very rare exception to the gate-crashing rule; rather than being arrested, he eventually befriended his target. Goresh was a New Jersey college student, amateur photographer and Beatles fan who came up with a plan to meet his idol, John Lennon. Goresh boldly gained access to the exclusive Dakota apartment building one day in 1979 by dressing in an ersatz uniform and informing the security guard that he was there to repair the Lennon's VCR. He was allowed upstairs, and to Paul's amazement, John Lennon himself actually answered the door. Lennon was confused and upset that his secretary hadn't alerted him that a repairman was expected (one wasn't, of course; the whole thing was a farce). Surprisingly, John felt bad about his verbal outburst and apologized to Goresh and obliged him with an autograph.

In the following months, John and Yoko frequently saw Goresh hanging around outside the Dakota with his camera and John accused him of being a member of the press (this was during John's reclusive "househusband" period). Goresh insisted that he was merely a fan and offered up his roll of undeveloped film as proof. John exposed the roll and gatecrasher4Goresh's only request that he didn't break his camera, as it cost $350. Lennon and Goresh developed something of a casual friendship after that—John and Yoko would frequently pose or wave when they spotted him in front of the Dakota.


Little did Paul Goresh suspect that he would become a footnote in history when he snapped a photograph of John Lennon signing a copy of Double Fantasy for Mark David Chapman on the evening of December 8, 1980 (pictured).

5. Aaron Barschak

The motives behind self-proclaimed "comedy terrorist" Aaron Barschak's various antics (he's successfully crashed several A-list London parties) seem to change depending upon his mood when he's interviewed. He was either paying silent tribute to British comedian Spike Milligan, or he was afraid of dying without anyone knowing his name. Whatever his reasons, he became a household name in the UK after he crashed Prince William's 21st birthday party in August 2003. Dressed as Osama bin Laden (albeit with a pink skirt), he scaled the wall of Windsor Castle, set off several alarms, was seen by security on closed-circuit television and still managed to get on stage while Will was giving a speech. He was apprehended but not charged; instead a serious investigation into royal security was launched.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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