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The Best ________ Songs Of All Time

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I'm about to rip off two of David Israel's popular running features, On Music and Tuesday Turnip. Apologies in advance.

Some friends of mine are working with internet radio station LuxuriaMusic to compile a list of the best songs for getting you "in the mood." This started a discussion about lists ranking the best songs of all-time, which I'm going to carry over to the blog (dancing into David's "On Music" territory).

Rolling Stone came out with The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time issue in 2004. Here's their Top Ten:

1. "Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan
2. "Satisfaction," The Rolling Stones
3. "Imagine," John Lennon
4. "What's Going On," Marvin Gaye
5. "Respect," Aretha Franklin
6. "Good Vibrations," The Beach Boys
7. "Johnny B. Goode," Chuck Berry
8. "Hey Jude," The Beatles
9. "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana
10. "What'd I Say," Ray Charles

But you don't need to publish a rock magazine to make your own list. By typing "greatest songs of all time" into Google "“ part two of this two-part homage to David Israel "“ I found plenty more.

"¢ 100 Years...100 Songs: America's Best Movie Music (AFI)
1. "Over the Rainbow," The Wizard of Oz
2. "As Time Goes By," Casablanca
3. "Singin' in the Rain," Singin' in the Rain
4. "Moon River," Breakfast at Tiffany's
5. "White Christmas," Holiday Inn

virginradio.jpeg"¢ Virgin Radio (UK) Top 500
1. "Chasing Cars," Snow Patrol
2. "Iris," The Goo Goo Dolls
3. "One," U2
4. "Wonderwall," Oasis
5. "I Predict A Riot," Kaiser Chiefs

"¢ The Rock Czar's Top 100 Indie Rock Songs
1. "Float On," Modest Mouse
2. "Slow Hands," Interpol
3. "Take Me Out," Franz Ferdinand
4. "Neighborhood #1," The Arcade Fire
5. "Time is Running Out," Muse

HearYa.jpg"¢ HearYa, an indie music blog, has its Top 100 Indie Songs of All Time (all songs were originally released on an indie label)
1. "Live Wire," Motley Crue
2. "Lake of Fire," Meat Puppets
3. "Sitting Still," R.E.M.
4. "Spirit Walker," The Cult
5. "I Will Dare," The Replacements

"¢ One Hit Wonder Central's Top 100 One Hit Wonders
1. "Into the Night," Benny Mardones
2. "Tighter, Tighter," Alive and Kicking
3. "I Wanna Be Rich," Calloway
4. "House of the Rising Sun," Frijid Pink
5. "Sh-Boom," The Chords
(these rankings will change based on what people are searching on their site)

"¢ Australasian Performing Right Association's Top 100 New Zealand Songs of All Time
flightofconchords.jpg 1. "Nature," Fourmyula
2. "Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House
3. "Loyal," Dave Dobbyn
4. "Counting The Beat," Swingers
5. "Six Months In A Leaky Boat," Split Enz

(Do we have any readers from New Zealand? Let us know. We've got some Kiwi-centric stuff in the works.)

"¢ Finally, Alaska Jim has the ultimate list of these kinds of lists. He pointed me to Spin Magazine's Top 100 Most Representative Funk Songs ("Sex Machine" by James Brown is #1), the Top 300 Songs 1998-2004 ("Everybody Here Wants You" by Jeff Buckley) and Kylie Minogue's Top 75 ("Breathe" takes top honors).

So, if you want to share your favorite chart, we'd love to hear it. Or go contribute to the one LuxuriaMusic is putting together.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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