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The Late Movies: Celebrating Moldova's Independence

Today marks the 21st anniversary of Moldova's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. What better way to celebrate independence than with pop music and rock 'n' roll? Here are 8 of Moldova's most popular musical acts.

1. O-Zone

"Dragostea Din Tei" (a.k.a. "the Numa Numa song")

"Dragostea Din Tei" is far and away O-Zone's most popular song, with the official music video from Ultra Records accruing more than 23 million YouTube views in 5 years. (You may know the song better from the "Numa Numa" viral video.) The group, originally a duo, formed in 1999 and hit it big with "Despre tine" in 2002. They disbanded in 2005, less than a year after "Dragostea Din Tei" made it into many countries' top 10 charts. That same year, a Japanese record company obtained Japan distribution rights for O-Zone, and the group became a Japanese sensation, with the DiscO-Zone album selling more than 1 million copies.

2. Zdob ?i Zdub (a.k.a. Zdob shi Zdub)

"So Lucky" (Performed live)

Zdob ?i Zdub, which formed in 1994, fuses traditional Romanian folk music with more modern musical genres, including punk, ska, and hip-hop. They were the first band to represent Moldova at a Eurovision contest, in 2005, placing sixth with their song "Bunika Bate Toba." They represented Moldova again at Eurovision in 2011, finishing 12th that year with "So Lucky." (The video above is a live recording used as a promotional video for Eurovision 2011, and not their actual performance from the contest.) They have released 10 albums, toured in at least 10 countries, warmed up for Rage Against the Machine, and performed at a Russian MTV-Party. There's even a YouTube video in which Zdob ?i Zdub's "DJ Vasile" is mashed-up with the Black Eyed Peas "Don't Phunk With My Heart."

3. SunStroke Project & Olia Tira

"Run Away" (Performed for Eurovision 2010)

SunStroke Project's Anton Ragoza (the violinist and composer) and Sergey Stepanov (the saxophonist) served in the Army together, during which time Sergey got the inspiration for the band's name. The group formed in 2007 and currently consists of Anton, Sergey, and Sergei Yalovitsky (vocals). They competed to represent Moldova for Eurovision 2009, but came in third in the pre-selection; they succeeded the next year, when they were chosen along with German-born, Moldova-based pop singer Olia Tira to represent Moldova. At Eurovision 2010, SunStroke Project and Olia Tira performed "Run Away," reaching 22nd place among 39 competitors. Both the band and Olia Tira are probably more well-known for their Eurovision competition than their other songs, especially after Sergey Stepanov's saxophone solo in "Run Away" became a meme known as "Epic Sax Guy." The band has capitalized on the meme, releasing an official "Epic Sax Guy" video and incorporating the phrase into their song "Superman," which they and Olia Tira used as a bid to represent Moldova for Eurovision 2012. (They weren't chosen.)

4. Pasha Parfeny

"L?utar" (Performed live)

Pasha Parfeny (also sometimes spelled Parfeni) was a member of SunStroke Project when it competed to represent Moldova at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest; he wrote "No Crime," the song they performed for the national selection contest. In 2010, both SunStroke Project (with Olia Tira) and Parfeny were again in the running to represent Moldova for Eurovision, but that year they were competing against each other, Parfeny having entered as a solo act. Parfeny failed to earn the bid in both 2010 and 2011, but succeeded in 2012 with his song "L?utar." (The video above is the preview video for the contest, and not the performance from Eurovision.) He placed 11th in the final. Although he's been active as a singer since 2002, he has not yet released any albums (as far as we can tell).

5. Alternosfera

"Muta" (Performed live, 2011)

This alternative rock band was formed in December 1998 by two high school friends. The line-up has changed a bit over the years, with only two original members--Marcel Bostan and Marin Nicoar?--remaining; the rest of the current members are Sergiu Aladin, Eugen Berdea, and Victor "Vikosh" Co?parmac. They've released two albums--Ora?ul 511 (2005) and Visatori cu Plumb în Ochi (2007)--as well as an EP, Flori din Groapa Marianelor (2008). Ora?ul 511 was named after the garage where the band rehearsed for years.

6. Natalia Barbu

"Do That Thing"

Natalia Barbu hit it big when her single, "Îngerul meu," spent 11 weeks in the #1 slot on the Romanian Top 100 chart and received frequent play on MTV Romania. In 2007, she was selected to represent Moldova at the Eurovision Song Contest, beating out Zdob ?i Zdub. She finished 10th out of 24 finalists. She has released three albums: Între ieri ?i azi (2001), Zbor De Dor (2003), Sunt fata de maritat (2009), and Fight (2009).

7. Familia Stratan

"Numar Pan La Unu" by Cleopatra Stratan

Familia Stratan patriarch Pavel graduated from the Academy of Music, Theatre and Plastic Arts in Moldova. He released his first album, Amintiri din copil?rie (Memories of Childhood), in 2002, followed by volumes 2, 3, and 4 in 2004, 2008, and 2011, respectively. Cleopatra Stratan, Pavel's daughter with his wife, engineer Rodica, released her own album in 2006, at the tender age of 3. With La vârsta de trei ani, Cleopatra reportedly became the youngest artist to achieve commercial success; she also was the youngest artist to perform live for two hours in front of a large audience, the highest paid young artist, the youngest artist to receive an MTV award, and the youngest artist to score a #1 hit (which she did in Romania with "Ghi??"). La vârsta de trei ani went double platinum in 2006 in Romania, where the family now lives. Cleopatra has released three more albums: La vârsta de 5 ani (2008), Cr?ciun Magic (2009), and Melodii Pentru Copii (2012). The youngest Stratan, Cezar, was born in 2008; he now joins Pavel and Cleopatra in many of their YouTube videos.

8. Nelly Ciobanu

"Hora Din Moldova" (Dance of Moldova)

Nelly Ciobanu has been performing since age 19 (in 1993), when she won first prize at the "Morning Star" competition. She has continued to do well in competitions throughout the Eurasian region; the fact that she sings in 11 languages, including Romanian, Russian, and English, surely doesn't hurt. In 2009, she represented Moldova at Eurovision, where she came in 14th with "Hora Din Moldova." (The video above is the promotional video, not her Eurovision performance.) For the last five years, she has been hosting a music TV program called "Vedete la bis," or Stars Encore, in Moldova.

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

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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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