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

11 Last Meals of the Rich and Famous

Original image
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

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES