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Pop annotations: "London Bridge" by Fergie

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While all but the most adept geniuses need annotations to make heads or tails of James Joyce's Ulysses or a molecular biology textbook, most folks seem to do just fine without expertly-annotated copies of Elle Girl. Truth is, they don't know what they're missing. To remedy that, we present Pop Annotations, a weekly column dedicated to exposing the factoidal profundities lurking below the surface of today's hit songs. This week we tackle club-phenom Fergie's infuriatingly catchy single, "London Bridge," which goes a little something like this:

When I come to the club, step aside
Pop the seats, don't be heavy in the line1
V.I.P. because you know I gotta shine
I'm Fergie Ferg, and me love you long time2

1. Trans: Allow me ingress to your establishment, fair bouncer, wherein I might shake my humps.
2. Birth name: Sarah Stacy Ferguson. Stage name: Fergie, a reference to the notoriously hard-partying Dutchess of York, who made herself a fixture in British tabloids by allegedly loving a number of people "long time" (her husband not necessarily among them).

All my girls get down on the floor
Back to back drop it down real low3
I'm such a lady but I'm dancing like a ho
"˜cause you know I don't give a f***,4 so here we go!

3. Probably a reference to the sexy-like-an-epileptic-seizure stripper dance, an outgrowth of the crunk style of hip-hop. (Interestingly, there is some debate over whether the term "crunk" was coined by Southern rappers, Conan O'Brien or Dr. Seuss.)
4. She really doesn't. To wit: the 2005 concert in which she wet her pants but kept on singing, despite the presence of photographers and shocked fans.

How come every time you come around
My London London Bridge5,6, wanna go down7 like
London London London, wanna go down like
London London London, be going down like


5. Fergie's album cover shows the Tower Bridge, not the comparatively unremarkable London Bridge.
6. Unless Fergie has bought and now owns the London Bridge, we're pretty sure this is a naughty metaphor. Anyone got any other ideas?
7. London Bridge actually fell down many times: first in 1013 -- burned by the strangely-monikered King Ethelred the Unready -- and most recently in 1924, when Her Majesty's engineers decided the bridge was unsafe and sold it to an American businessman. The old bridge now spans Lake Havasu, and is the second-largest tourist draw in Arizona.

Drinks start pourin'
And my speech start slurrin8
Everybody start looking at you

8. Alcohol intereferes with synaptic firing in the brain, resulting in lowered intellectual capacity while drinking "“ and also during a hangover.

Grey Goose got the girl feeling loose
Now I'm wishin' that I didn't wear these shoes (I hate heels!9)
It's like everytime I get up on the dude10
Papparazzi11 put my bidness in the news
And I'm like "Get up out my face!
"˜Fore I turn around an' spray your ass with Maceâ„¢
My lips make you want to have a taste!"
You got that? "¦ I got the bass!12

9. High heels were actually first worn by men, popularized by diminutive French nobility who wore them as high as four inches.
10. Fergie is currently dating Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! actor Josh Duhamel.
11. The term "paparazzi" derives from Signor Paparazzo, a character from Fellini's classic film La Dolce Vita. Paparazzo is a photographer who finds he can earn 60 times his usual rate from photographs of celebrity confrontations.
12. Did we mention that bass of a certain frequency can make you love God?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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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]