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The Quick 10: 10 Pets Worth More Than You

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I’m making an assumption here - maybe I should add a qualifier: 10 animals that are probably worth more than you.

1. Trouble, a white Maltese worth $2 million. In one of the most famous bequeathments ever, Leona Helmsley left somewhere in the ballpark of $12 million to her dog. After the dog’s caretaker stated that $2 million would be more than enough to luxuriously look after Trouble for 10 years, a judge downgraded the inheritance to that sum instead. The $2 million includes $100,000 annually for full-time security; $8,000 annually for grooming; $1,200 for food; and a $60,000 salary for Trouble’s caretaker.

2. Gunther IV, a German Shepard worth $372 million. Gunther IV is a total trust fund baby. His dad, Gunther III, left him the cash, which he had inherited from his owner, German countess Karlotta Liebenstein. Gunther’s extravagant purchases include a rare white truffle valued at about $1,600; a villa in Miami that once belonged to Madonna; and possibly an Italian soccer team. It has been speculated that Gunther is simply a hoax created to generate publicity for the Gunther Corporation.

3. Tinker, a former stray cat worth more than $1 million – a $226,000 trust fund and a house worth about $800,000. When elderly widow Margaret Layne died in 2003, she decided to leave her possessions to the thing that had provided her the most comfort in her later years: her cat. The $200,000 trust fund is used to provide daily deliveries of fresh milk and food; he gets the house for 21 years or until he dies, whichever comes first. After that, his caretakers receive the three-bedroom house. Tinker can’t even appreciate his house, though – he had to be moved to a secret location after he received death threats from people who wanted his money. It’s tough being a filthy rich feline, isn’t it?

4. Sunny, Lauren, Sadie, Sophie and Solomon, worth $30 million. This pack belongs to none other than Oprah Winfrey, who has left them the astronomical sum in her will so that they may be well taken care of in the event of her death.

5. Kalu, a chimpanzee worth about $80 million. Australian heiress Patricia O’Neill left her entire fortune, including a mansion in Cape Town, South Africa, to her pet chimpanzee. Her husband, a former Olympic swimmer named Frank O’Neill, had reportedly taken a dislike to the chimp when it started stealing his liquor and cigarettes. I guess $80 million will buy a lot of Marlboros, so I suppose Frank doesn’t have to worry about his stash going missing anymore.

6. Big Tibby, a tortoise worth $80,000. Tortoises can live a long time, you know, so I guess it’s good that he has a pile of money to get him through his twilight years. His owner, Donald Moss, owned a mattress company in Stockport, England. OK, so Big Tibby may not be richer than you. But for a tortoise, I’d say he’s doing OK.

7. Flossie, a yellow lab mix that was worth $3 million. After her dog Flossie saved her life by alerting her to a fire, Drew Barrymore rewarded the dog with a house. In case she passed before Flossie, Drew wanted to make sure she lived the rest of her doggie years out in comfort. Sadly, Flossie died earlier this year at the age of 16, but Barrymore has since gotten a new dog. Maybe Douglas will inherit the house, if he’s lucky.

8. Gigoo, a hen worth £10 million. A publishing mogul named Miles Blackwell left his pet hen this exorbitant amount of money after his wife died, figuring he had no one else to leave the money to. Is it just me, or is picking a random name from a phone book better than leaving a hen that much chicken feed?

9. Toby Rimes, a poodle worth $48 million. Oh, another trust fund dog. Toby has just inherited the money from his dad and granddad – the money was originally left to Ella Wendel’s pet poodle in 1931. At the time, the poodle’s net worth was a mere$24 million, but smart investments have doubled the funds. That’s good. I’d hate to see Toby suffer in this economy.

10. Keiko, a killer whale worth at least $35 million. Thanks in part to his starring role in the Free Willy movies, Keiko was estimated to be worth at least $35 million when he died in 2003 after beaching himself. When you’re worth that kind of money, shouldn’t you have handlers that prevent you from doing that? Just saying…

Would you guys leave money to your pets in your will? I can see leaving a reasonable amount of money to contribute to their care, but millions? I can’t quite get behind that, not when there are any number of worthwhile charities to contribute to.

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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]