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istock (food)/Getty Images (elvis)/Rebecca O'Connell

11 Last Meals of the Rich and Famous

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istock (food)/Getty Images (elvis)/Rebecca O'Connell

They lived amazing lives. They accomplished incredible (although not always good) things. But what were their last meals?

1. Abraham Lincoln

Before heading out to watch Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865, President Lincoln dined on mock turtle soup, roast Virginia fowl with chestnut stuffing, baked yams, and cauliflower with cheese sauce.

2. Elvis Presley

"The King" stayed up most of the night of August 15, 1977; he was restless. Between midnight and 6:00 a.m., he went to his dentist to have a cavity filled (he did this late at night to avoid the mobs), then he returned to Graceland and played racquetball with friends, talked over marriage plans with his 20-year-old fiancée, Ginger Alden, and belted out some gospel songs on the piano. Around sunrise, Ginger went to bed, but Elvis, still unable to sleep, ate one of his usual early-morning snacks: four scoops of ice cream and six chocolate chip cookies. After that, he went to bed, then got up a few hours later to go to the bathroom, where he suffered a heart attack.

3. Mahatma Gandhi

On the evening of January 30, 1948, Gandhi enjoyed one of his standard healthy dinners of goat's milk, cooked vegetables, oranges, and a concoction of ginger, sour lemons, and strained butter mixed with aloe juice. He then took his nightly walk at Birla Bhavan in New Delhi, where followers often greeted him. Among the followers that night was an assassin, who shot the spiritual leader at point-blank range.

4. Saddam Hussein

The former Iraqi dictator was allowed to eat his favorite meal before he was executed: boiled chicken and rice, along with several cups of hot water laced with honey.

5. James Dean

The "rebel without a cause" was known for living life on the edge. It's ironic, then, that the last thing he ate a few hours before he crashed his Porsche Spider on September 30, 1955, was a slice of apple pie and a glass of milk at a roadside diner.

6. Adolf Hitler

The German dictator's last meal was on April 30, 1945, the day he finally realized he had lost the war. Holed up in his bunker, Hitler ate spaghetti with "light sauce" (although some biographers say he had lasagna). Hitler wanted a simple meal without any mention of the fall of Berlin, so the conversation consisted of dog breeding methods and "how lipstick was made from sewer grease." Shortly after the meal, Hitler and Eva Braun, whom he had married less than 40 hours earlier, went into a private room and took their own lives.

7. John Lennon

During the afternoon of December 8, 1980, Lennon ate a corned beef sandwich before going to a New York recording studio to work on one of Yoko Ono's new singles. At around 10:30 p.m., having just received the happy news that their album, Double Fantasy, had gone platinum, they decided to quit working for the night. Ono suggested stopping for dinner, but Lennon wanted to go straight back to their apartment at The Dakota to see their five-year-old son, Sean. Who knows what would have happened if Lennon had gone out to eat? Instead, he went home, where a deranged fan was waiting for him.

8. Ernest Hemingway

By the time he reached his 60s, Hemingway was suffering from severe depression. Several electroshock therapy treatments had left him in a frazzled condition. After a failed suicide attempt in the spring of 1961 at his home in Idaho, Hemingway tried again on July 2 by putting a shotgun to his head. First, though, he ate his favorite meal: New York strip steak, baked potato, caesar salad, and a glass of Bordeaux.

9. John Belushi

The Rainbow Bar and Grill in L.A. was known for its lentil soup. A very drunk John Belushi stopped in there on the night of March 5, 1982, after being told by concerned friends to "get your act together, or at least eat something." Belushi scarfed down a bowl of the lentil soup in the Rainbow's kitchen, then returned to his bungalow at Chateau Marmont. (Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro were there too, but left because of "extremely" heavy drug use.) Belushi's girlfriend injected the 33-year-old comedian with what turned out to be a lethal dose of heroin and cocaine. When doctors examined the contents of Belushi's stomach the next day, the only food was the lentil soup.

10. Princess Diana

By the evening of August 31, 1997, Diana and her boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed, were so fed up with being hounded by photographers that they decided to end their vacation early and return to England the next day. Their plan: eat dinner at the Espadon, a restaurant in the Ritz hotel, and then take a half-hour drive to the Duke of Windsor's former mansion, where they would spend the night. Diana ate a mushroom and asparagus omelette, Dover sole, and vegetable tempura. Around midnight, after sending two decoy cars to fool the paparazzi, Diana and Dodi climbed into a black Mercedes S600, but they never made it to the mansion.

11. John F. Kennedy

On the morning of November 22, 1963, JFK ate breakfast in his room at the Hotel Texas in Fort Worth. According to the hotel's executive chef, Otto Druhe, he served the president "coffee, orange juice, two boiled (five-minute) eggs, some toast, and marmalade on the side." The president's entourage then left for downtown Dallas, where they were scheduled for a 1:00 p.m. luncheon directly after Kennedy's motorcade made its way through town. Kennedy was shot at 12:30 p.m.

Honorable Mentions

Michael Jackson: Spinach salad with chicken breast
Marilyn Monroe: Selections from a Mexican buffet that had been delivered to her Brentwood home
John Candy: Spaghetti
Liberace: A bowl of cream of wheat with half & half and brown sugar
General Custer: Roasted buffalo steaks, beans with molasses, roasted wild corn, and prairie hen
Rasputin: Honeyed cakes, Madeira wine, black bread, and Russian hors d'oeuvres
Frank Sinatra: A grilled cheese sandwich
Jimi Hendrix: Tuna fish sandwich
Julia Child: A bowl of French onion soup

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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