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Stacy Conradt

Marilyn Monroe

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Stacy Conradt

For years, every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles (cemetery and/or tombstone enthusiasts) out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Happy belated birthday to Marilyn Monroe, who would have been 88 yesterday if she hadn’t overdosed on barbiturates in 1962.

Even 50-plus years later, though, her death remains a bit of a mystery. The barbiturates are mostly undisputed—the unresolved issue is whether the overdose was accidental, purposeful, or murder. Conflicting stories from people close to Marilyn have had experts scratching their heads for decades. These are the most popular theories.

The cause: A fatal sleep aid cocktail.

Marilyn’s physician was in the process of slowly weaning her from Nembutal, a sedative. But she had other means of getting it, and may have been mixing it with other drugs. Evidence of both Nembutal and chloral hydrate, another sedative, were discovered during the autopsy. However, they weren’t taken intravenously—there were no needle marks—and reports state that no traces of the drugs were found in her stomach, either. This leads to the theory that Marilyn’s physician administered a drug enema, and perhaps accidentally gave her too much or the wrong combination.

The cause: Getting too close to JFK and RFK.

There are two theories as to how these affairs resulted in murder: Either one of the Kennedy brothers had her killed because she was getting too needy, or a third party (the CIA and the Mafia are both mentioned in conspiracy theories) decided that enough was enough and took her out themselves. Some of Marilyn’s neighbors reported that they saw Robert Kennedy at Monroe’s house the night of her death.

The cause: Marilyn decided to end it herself.

She had attempted suicide at least four times previously, and she had access to a number of drugs. Peter Lawford, Marilyn’s good friend and JFK’s brother-in-law, says that when he spoke to the starlet in the early evening, she said something a little odd: “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you're a nice guy."

Whether it was suicide, murder, or accidental overdose, Marilyn’s ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, was convinced that Hollywood had killed her. He arranged her funeral and only allowed 25 people to attend. He excluded most of Monroe’s Hollywood contacts and friends. When studio execs tried to convince DiMaggio that they belonged at the service, he refused, saying, “Tell them if it wasn’t for them, she’d still be here.”

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

For 20 years, DiMaggio had six long-stemmed roses delivered to Monroe’s grave twice weekly. So why wasn’t the baseball great—who never remarried—buried with his longtime love when he died in 1999? It's possible that he would have been, had he not sold his adjacent crypt after he and Marilyn divorced in 1954. The crypt went to Richard Poncher, whose wife agreed to have him placed face down when he was interred, so he could always be on top of Marilyn.

Monroe continues to make people money even in death. Not only was she one of the top-earning deceased celebrities in 2013, the real estate surrounding her crypt in Westwood Village Memorial Park continues to be hot. In 2009, Richard Poncher’s widow tried to sell his vault on eBay. (So much for resting in peace.) Though it sold for more than $4 million, the winner had to retract his bid.

As of February, the vault next to Marilyn was up for sale—but not the one on the left. Though he never met her, Hugh Hefner bought that piece of "land" for $75,000 in 1992. Hef isn't alone in continuing to love her—the picture above shows how discolored her vault is from more than 50 years of lipstick kisses.

See all entries in our Grave Sightings series 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]