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5 Things You Didn't Know About Martha Stewart

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You know Martha Stewart as the crafts-and-cooking guru who has dominated print and broadcast media. You know her as the stockowner who ran into a bit of trouble with the feds. Today, let's look at five things you might not know about Stewart.

1. She Was a Model and a Stockbroker

From the time she was in high school through her days at Barnard College, Stewart had a relatively successful modeling career. She did some in-store work for Bonwit Teller, and she later did TV spots for Clairol and Tareyton Cigarettes. Her biggest exposure came in 1961, when Glamour magazine named her one of America's "Ten Best-Dressed College Girls." The modeling career ended when she married Yale law student Andrew Stewart in 1963.

In 1967 Stewart went back to work, but this time she took on Wall Street rather than the runway. According to a 2001 Vanity Fair feature, Stewart used her modeling experience to her advantage once she became a stockbroker, even going so far as to wear hot pants to meetings. She eventually became one of the only female brokers at Perlberg, Monness, Williams and Sidel, but she left in 1973 to spend more time with her daughter.

Another odd fact about Stewart's time as a broker: one of her fellow brokers was an up-and-coming actor named Brian Dennehy.

2. She Keeps Her Horses In the Dark

Stewart's Cantitoe Farm follows a strict aesthetic scheme: everything on the property is either gray or black. All of the buildings are gray, while all of the animals are black. Every sheep, cow, horse, and dog on the farm is black. There's only one problem with this rigidity, though—Stewart owns five black Friesian draft horses that will turn red when they're exposed to the sun.

According to a 2005 Vanity Fair profile, Stewart's horses got too much sun one summer and turned red. She was none too pleased with the affront to her color scheme, so she instructed the horses' grooms to keep them inside their stables during daylight. Once the sun goes down, the horses are free to run and play as they like.

3. She Wasn't Great at Being Under House Arrest

Your probably remember Stewart's prison hitch after being embroiled in an insider-trading scandal. What you might not remember is that she actually ended up spending more time in 2005 under house arrest than she had planned.

According to the terms of Stewart's house arrest, the domestic wizard was allowed out of her home in suburban New York for 48 hours a week for work, food shopping, medical appointments, and religious services. She was originally slated to spend five months in home confinement complete with an ankle bracelet that tracked her movements.

Stewart apparently decided these rules were not good things, though. She allegedly left home to attend a yoga class, and she also spent time motoring around her estate in a Kawasaki Mule off-road vehicle. In August 2005 her lawyer announced that she had agreed to spend an extra three weeks under home confinement as a result of these transgressions.

4. She Tried to Trademark a Town's Name

KatonahIn 2007 Stewart created a controversy when she attempted to trademark the word "Katonah" for a line of her home furnishings and paints. What made people so angry? Katonah, New York, is actually an unincorporated hamlet in Westchester County, and folks weren't too pleased about having their home's name trademarked. On top of that, local stores that sold furniture and hardware worried that they couldn't keep the word "Katonah" in their stores' names if Stewart became a trademark-holding competitor.

Stewart also ran into heavy opposition from the Ramapough Lenape Indian Nation. Katonah was named after one of the nation's chiefs, and the nation's representative said, "If it's being done for profit, then of course it's offensive."

As of this writing, everyone from the Katonah Village Improvement Society to Katonah Architectural Hardware Limited to Katonah Paint & Hardware, Inc. are appealing Stewart's right to trademark the Hamlet's name.

5. She's No Rachael Ray Fan

ray-stewartLast November Stewart ignited a firestorm of controversy by slamming cooking personality Rachael Ray on Nightline. When asked about Ray's cooking skills and approach in the kitchen, Stewart said that Ray's techniques were "not good enough for me." Ouch. To make things worse, Stewart's burn came after she and Ray had appeared on each other's shows.

Stewart quickly jumped into damage control mode and publicly made amends with Ray. On the next episode of her show, Stewart stood next to guest Emeril Lagasse and said, ""I truly believe that Rachael has done a terrific job bringing people — many people who would of never have even stepped into the kitchen or made a dish — to cook."

Ray later admitted that Stewart is more advanced in the kitchen than she is and said there were no hard feelings.

See more of Martha's modeling photos at '5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. If there's someone you'd like to see covered, leave us a comment. You can read the previous installments here.


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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]