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The Late Movies: The Smashing Pumpkins

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Some friends and I recently went on a trip to the Jersey Shore together. The drive posed a problem, since we all have very different tastes in music. We could all agree on one thing, though: the early 90s alternative rock we loved in grade school is still pretty awesome. Tonight we present one of my favorite bands from that era, The Smashing Pumpkins.

“Cherub Rock,” Isolated Bass Track

Female bass players seemed to be an unofficial requirement for early 90s rock bands (see White Zombie, The Pixies, Bikini Kill, Sonic Youth), and the Pumpkins had two of the best: D'arcy Wretzky and Melissa Auf der Maur (who also played in Hole and the great Black Sabbath cover band, Hand of Doom). Here’s one of my favorite things to play on Rock Band II: D’arcy’s bass parts from “Cherub Rock.”

"Cherub Rock"

And here’s the whole band doing the song live on TV Europe. Singer Billy Corgan fought the band’s record label to get this released as the first single from the album Siamese Dream. The record execs wanted to release “Today” first, and that second single got much more attention than “Cherub Rock.”


When the band first went into the studio to record Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, “1979” was just a shell of a song, and the record’s producer wanted to leave it off the album. Corgan was attached to what he had, though, and finished it in just a few hours. The next day he played it for the producer and got it added into the recording sessions.

"Stand Inside Your Love"

While many of their contemporaries (at least the ones I paid attention to) faded away, the Pumpkins soldiered on into the new millennium with Machina/The Machines of God. Stone Temple Pilots had released No. 4 just a few months earlier to much disappointment from me and my friends, but the Pumpkins made up for it with Machina, retaining their classic sound on songs like this one.


Not long after Machina and its followup Machina II were released, the Pumpkins disbanded, only to “reunite” at the end of the decade with only Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin as the remaining original members. Chamberlin eventually left (or was fired, depending on who you ask), and Corgan continued recording and touring with a group of musicians that appear to be about 20 years younger than him. This video, from a live set at Sacramento’s Radio 94.7 KKDO, looks like an old dude crashing a high school talent show.

Jimmy Chamberlin drum solo

Speaking of Jimmy Chamberlin, here he is just doing his thing in an undated live performance.

"Bullet with Butterfly Wings"

I don’t suppose we could talk about the Pumpkins without acknowledging their best-known song. I spent a good chunk of 9th grade banging these riffs out on a hand-me-down guitar in my basement.


The Pumpkins have a pretty large body of work, and I certainly missed many of your favorites on this list. Which songs do you love? Leave video links in the comments.

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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]