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What we talk about when we talk about Hair Wars

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In an age where a showdown between Kanye and 50 seems to draw more attention than so-and-so's potential running mate, maybe the spotlight is aching to warm another subset. That's just what David Humphries, Detroit-based founder and producer of Hair Wars, thinks: "The rappers have been in the spotlight since the early 1980's and it's bigger than ever. But it's time for a new type of celebrity." Enter the hair star...
So here we go: David "Hump the Grinder" Humphries (pictured with George Clinton) dishes on Motown, presidents, "hair theft," and what it's like to be the vanguard of "Hair Entertainment."

David, Hair Wars has a giant fan base--comprised of people passionate about experimenting with aesthetics, and probably also some people who don't know much about hair show culture but who relish its OTT aspects and want to seem hipper than they are. Which, hey, includes me. What do you think is so attractive to people about this movement?

It's creativity in its rawest form. We represent the artists and entertainers with imaginations, along with skill. The sky is the limit to these hair stylists' concepts. They are true hair entertainers and they create their own stage names, their images and coordinate stage performances - bringing you a barrage of fantasy hair that will explain why some people treat them like underground rock stars.

sdIt seems people consider "the hairy-copter" the pièce de résistance of Hair Wars. Can you talk a little bit about its importance in furthering your brand, or do you think there are pieces that deserve more attention?

The Hairy-Copter is definitely our signature piece. The first one was created in 1991 by the late great Mr. Little, and a photographer from the Associated Press came to the show and put it on the wire. It ran world-wide, and ever since, everyone's been wanting to see it again and again"“ and several stylists have created different versions. We even held Hairy-Copter contests. People definitely connect Hair Wars with the Hairy-Copter and it does help promote our name and the hair entertainment industry. Sometimes But as old as some of the hair stylists think it is, I encourage them to keep showing that Hairy-Copter and it doesn't hurt that it gets lots of media attention. So I tell the stylists who think it's getting old, to keep showing that piece of history. It's like the Temptations have to keep performing "My Girl"--because it's a hit.

One of your newsletters seemed to imply there is an actual hairy-copter. As in, the Air Force One of Hair Wairs. Is this true?

Naw, but some people do believe there's one out there somewhere. We run radio spots sometimes with me shouting over a helicopter soundtrack, giving updates of hair happenings in the streets and salons. However, it would be nice if one of the TV stations let us decorate one of their choppers so we can cruise for real. Who knows, maybe one day we'll have our own, with the Hair Wars logo on it.

What is in a Hair Wars stylist's tool belt?

Cutting Shears, combs, bobby pins, hair clips, hair spray, some silky oil, curling irons, a blow dryer, a CD, and maybe even a battery-operated motor and a serious attitude.

Your nickname is Hump the Grinder. Can you walk us through how this came about?

I'm from a family of "Humps" "“ coming from Humphries and Hump The Grinder came from my dj name when I began doing parties at Oakland University outside Detroit. When I graduated from school, I was going to drop it, but I couldn't "“ the name was out there, so I decided to keep it forever. The name fits me pretty good. I am a "Grinder." I'm like the hockey player who goes into the corner and scraps for stuff all game "“ It doesn't stop.

I understand you have a new book coming out with photographer David Yellen. What do you look for in a good hair photographer?

I met David Yellen and Johanna Lenander when Hair Wars presented "The Battle of America's Hair Entertainers" at the Apolno Theater in New York. He was shooting the show for Life Magazine and he said he wanted to shoot a book about Hair Wars and its interesting characters. He had a hook up with Powerhouse Books and he was prepared to hang out with us on the road. So he followed Hair Wars all over the country for about 2 years and was welcomed inside our world. His skills--and equipment--were top notch. So was his personality--he seemed to be really feeling it. Then when I saw his photos, I'm like damn, you can see everything--the good and the bad, all the flaws, the pimples on the forehead, the glue on the tracks. David Yellen did an excellent job.

As I'm sure you've seen, people can become obsessed with their hair. Have you ever encountered cases of extreme obsession (for example, trichotillomania)?

Yes, I've met people who can't even go to the store without their hair being in perfect condition. They carry a mirror and hair spritz everywhere they go and they're forever touching it up"“-I'm like, why don't you put on a damn hat and leave it alone.

Which celebrity has hair you'd love to get your hands on?

Probably Beyoncé because her weave is so long and silky. Can you imagine how tall that do would stand? And the way she moves, she would work the hell out of it.

You've said one of your goals is to bring "hair entertainment" into the mainstream. What is the essence of this kind of entertainment, and why do you think the climate is right in the United States for this kind of revolution?

I didn't know this was a revolution. I just know that we've been cultivating this hair entertainment concept for a long time. I do see hair stylists as future superstars. I mean, what else is out there? Has there been something out there brewing throughout urban America? The rappers have been in the spotlight since the early 1980's and it's bigger than ever. But it's time for a new type of celebrity. The hair entertainers have their names, their images, the stage performances "“ they are packaged to be stars. And the shows are developing into a multi-cultural event. It's for everyone who wants to be entertained - you don't have to be connected to the hair business to enjoy a show. It has the feel of a sporting event or a concert with mostly women "“ it has a fresh, new, clean-cut approach, with raw and funky edges. It's definitely outside the box. But who knows when the major sponsors will see the value of the hair entertainment industry? There's a chance it may bust wide open in Europe before the U.S.

Who are your inspirations?

Cedric "Ricky" Walker, the creator of UniverSoul Circus. I used to work for him during the days of the New York City Fresh Festival "“ the world's first major rap tour. He grabbed the black circus idea and ran with it. Others who come to mind would be Muhammad Ali, George Carlin, Don King and both my Mother and Father.

What do you think of the hegemony of fashion stylists? Do you feel there's a point at which stylists should let their clients go, or do you think it's acceptable to have someone in your life who tells you what to where and when?

I think the celebrities feel too much pressure about what they should wear. Forget the critics and wear what you feel. Just be YOU. Dress the bgst that fits you and don't worry about winning a fashion award. But many celebrities give the media and fans what they want "“ a fashion war.

How would you define style?

Sharp. Neat. Original. Slick. Head-turning.

What do you think hair should smell like?

Real fruit--like lemons, peaches, bananas and cherries.

We were in touch earlier this year about getting you on Dream Vote, and it broke my heart that we couldn't get to watch you cruising down 75 in your own tour bus. Can you give us an update on where you are with that dream?

I'm still holding the shovel for the ground-breaking ceremony of the Hair Wars Headquarters and the Hair Wars U.S. Tour Bus hasn't left the paper yet--it looks good on paper, too. But in reality, no major sponsors have stepped up--yet. I do feel that the right situation will happen and even more hair stars will be born.

What's the biggest misconception you think people have about Hair Wars?

Lots of folks think it's a competition "“ they're always asking "who won?" Hair Wars is a showcase. It's entertainment. Some think Hair Wars is just for people in the hair business, like a trade show, and others think it's a black thing or it's just for women and gay men. But once they attend an actual show, they realize it's for everyone.

What's the biggest mistake people commit when wearing or caring for a weave?

Trying to make it last too long. It's like a car, it needs maintenance. Get it re-done!

sdDo your stylists copyright their creations? Is there much concern about idea theft, etc. in Hair Wars?

I don't believe it's a practice for stylists to copyright their creations. I'm not sure about how they really could protect their ideas. They do talk about who stole what style and they have their ways of trying to prove they originated a particular design. But yes, there is rampant 'hair theft' going on. And as far as people using the Hair Wars name, lots of people have used it at one time or another, and it keeps my lawyer very busy. Some are innocent "“ but others are trying to be sneaky and try to mislead people into thinking they are the original. Or they'll call it Hair Warz with a "z." But with all of our history and all the documentation on the internet, it will be very hard trying to pass as an impostor.

I live in LA, and people here tend to be pretty obsessed with grooming their pets. Have you ever been approached about styling dogs or any other kind of animal? If you could style the "hair" of any animal, what would it be?

Yes, we've had dog-lovers on the stage a few times, sporting some hair dos that were looking better than their handlers. One of our stylists in Pittsburgh, PA "“ 'Weaven Steven' Noss, was asked to style a lady's poodle for some special event. And she paid much more than an average hair do would have cost. If there was one animal I would style, it would probably be a grizzly bear--if I could keep his big butt still. 

Which technological invention has helped hair styling the most? Is there one you'd like to invent?

I would invent "It Styles While You Sleep Hair Do." Go to bed nappy and wake up happy.

What are you currently reading?

Standing In The Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson. I really like the book (I just finished it today), because it exposed a lot of behind the scenes activity of the Motown sound. These musicians were in the background for a long time, but it was their music that made it happen. I also have a close connection to the early Motown days. I went to elementary school with Berry Gordy's children (Berry, Terry & Hazel). I was real close to Terry and I used to ride in the Motown Records limo sometimes when I would ride with the Gordy's to their house and play in their backyard tree house. erSometimes we would stop at Hitsville U.S.A. (Motown) on the way to the house. Hazel Gordy was my dance partner at one of her birthday parties, where just about everyone from Motown was present, and we got $2 each for winning the dance contest. And plus, I played the upright bass in school, starting in the 4th grade. So there were many reasons to get a hold of that book. Berry Gordy is also one of my idols because of how he created stars from the streets of Detroit "“ very similar to what I've been doing with the hair entertainers. 

If you had to advise 2008 presidential candidates on their hair, what would you say?


Most of the 2008 presidential candidates have real simple hair. I would like to see something done to Hillary's do. ewIt has potential, but it's very bland. She needs to add some extensions so it can flow more. I can see some streaking in the hair to add color and some layers to give it that "˜up-to-date' flavor. She would look 15 years younger and it would add some sex appeal and probably help her attract the younger voters. Right now, I would say she's sporting a "˜granny do.'

ertWhich president has had the best hair?

President Ronald Reagan. When the helicopter landed on The White House lawn, his neck would be flappin', but his hair always stayed in place.

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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]