Paul McCartney's First Girlfriend

Dorothy "Dot" Rhone, a quiet girl from Liverpool, England, grew up with an emotionally distant mother and an abusive father who drank. She was terribly shy, introverted, and withdrawn, and she thought her nose was too big, going so far as to sleep with a clothes pin hooked on it in the sad hope that it might make her nose smaller.

One person, though, did think she was pretty. His name was Paul McCartney.

In 1959, when she was 16, Dot attended a gig at the "Casbah Club" featuring a teenage group who called themselves "The Quarreymen." (It wasn't until the next year that the Quarreymen would change their name to the Beatles.) She struck up a conversation with Paul, the band's best-looking member, and eventually they began dating.

Because of Dot's shy, withdrawn personality, she was easily dominated by Paul, who set down his rules loud and clear.

Although Paul could (and would) see other girls, he forbade Dot from seeing any other guys. Paul was a chronic smoker, but no cigarettes were allowed for Dot. He made her dye her hair blond, a la his sexual fantasy girl, actress Brigitte Bardot, and made her wear short, tight miniskirts. He told her how to wear her makeup. Paul was so controlling, he even told her she had to drop her girl friends. Dot, in love and very malleable, agreed to Paul's authoritarian rules.

"We got Dot to go blonde and wear miniskirts. It's terrible really. But that's the way it was," recalled Paul.

It wasn't all bad with Paul. Dot also remembers a kind, caring side.

Dot, who often hung out at Paul's happier home, recalls watching him sing old-time Dixie-style songs with his brother. She told Paul of her sad childhood and life and found him to be very caring and compassionate. Paul opened up to her about his own worst tragedy, his mother's death in 1956. Dot recalls flipping through a religious book with Paul and coming upon a picture of Jesus. "Paul said it looked just like his mother," she remembered.

Dot was impressed by Paul's generosity, remembering him once shelling out several weeks wages to buy her a very expensive leather coat. For Valentine's Day, Paul gave her a special handmade card.

Sometime in 1961, Dot got pregnant.

Paul's very conservative father forbade them giving up the baby for adoption, and a wedding was planned. Paul bought his expectant girlfriend a gold engagement ring and was ready to "do the right thing." But fate intervened, and Dot miscarried after three months. The wedding was cancelled. (If Dot had given birth, the entire history of the Beatles would, of course, have been changed.)

Dot was never to forget the sight of Paul bringing her a batch of flowers and comforting her after he heard about the miscarriage.

Dot became good friends with John Lennon's girlfriend, Cynthia Powell. Cyn was to remember Dot as "a gentle soul who blushed frequently." The two would go incognito to watch their boyfriends play at local gigs around Liverpool.

When the band went off to play in Hamburg, Germany, Paul wrote to Dot almost every day. (The song "P.S. I Love You," the B-side of the first Beatles record, was written about Dot.)

Dot and Cynthia went to visit the boys in Hamburg, and both would recall the sight of their two boyfriends running madly to welcome them and show them the local Hamburg sights. Dot and Paul lived together in Hamburg in a cabin on a houseboat. About these happy days, Dot remembered the two of them being "very cuddly, lovely, close."

But still, in spite of the generally happy times, the young couple would sometimes have very furious fights.

By the summer of 1962, with the Beatles on the brink of national fame, Paul decided to call it quits with Dot.

Cynthia remembered the sad night -- a girls night hanging out, no guests expected, with Dot decked out in a baggy sweater with curlers in her hair. Out of the blue, Paul pounded on the door and informed Dot their three year relationship was over. He stalked off, leaving Dot in a state of shock.

The reason for Paul's abrupt severing of the relationship is a bit nebulous; some say Dot was pressing for marriage and Paul didn't want that. Dot was devastated, and it took her months to recover from the shock. She joined the civil service, hoping to escape Paul's memory, but unfortunately, the Beatles soon hit it big and "it was Beatles, Beatles, Beatles," said Dot.

Shortly thereafter, Dot decided to leave Liverpool and make a new life for herself.

She moved to Canada and met her future husband within four days.

Dot was to see Paul again briefly when the Beatles played a gig in Toronto in 1965. Many years later, when Paul's group Wings played the Maple Leaf Garden, Paul invited his ex-girlfriend to attend and sent a Rolls Royce to pick up Dot, her husband, and her daughter.

After the concert, Paul and Dot got a chance to talk, and Paul answered many questions Dot had about their time together. According to her friend Sandra, this meeting with Paul helped Dot tremendously and provided answers to questions she had carried for more than 40 years.

"When she met Paul again, the ghost was laid," said Sandra.

At last, Dot Rhone, Paul McCartney's first girlfriend, had achieved her own closure.

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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]