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7 Pop Groups and their Ridiculous TV Guest Spots

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Musicians have always needed some sort of platform from which to promote themselves, and before music videos became commonplace, the logical avenue was prime time television. Even if the premise was painfully clichéd (the Mosquitoes on Gilligan's Island, anyone?), it was a mutually beneficial arrangement; the episode was guaranteed to attract hordes of teen viewers, and the band garnered valuable exposure. Here are seven examples.

1. Chad & Jeremy Invade U.S. TV

British duo Chad and Jeremy fancied themselves as the U.K. version of the Everly Brothers, but had only limited success in their homeland. However, their timing was perfect to make a splash in the U.S., what with both the British Invasion and the folk music craze being in full swing on these shores. C&J had a string of hits on the American charts and at one point were the default duo for any TV show requiring mop-topped singers with a British accent. They appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Batman, Laredo, and even The Patty Duke Show, as seen here:

2. Buffalo Springfield on Mannix?

Joe Mannix was as tough as they came when it came to hard-boiled private eyes, and he had a darned fine head of hair that never got mussed whether he was clocking a perp with his mean right hook or chasing after one in his customized Toronado convertible. In a 1967 episode of the Mannix detective series titled "Warning: Live Blueberries," Joe visited a counter-culture-type nightclub on the Sunset Strip in search of a runaway college coed. If you watch carefully, through the smoky haze you can catch glimpses of Buffalo Springfield playing in the background. That clip is unavailable online, so instead we invite you to enjoy Stephen Stills, Neil Young, et al performing on an episode of The Hollywood Palace later that same year. Notice that the bass player is performing with his back to the audience. That's because he is a roadie filling in for bassist Bruce Palmer, who had recently been deported back to his native Canada after a drug bust.

3. The First Bewitched Appearance to Lack Magic

Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were very successful songwriters who also yearned to be pop stars in their own right. They'd auditioned to become members of The Monkees, but instead of getting on-camera roles, they were hired to write hit songs for the Prefab Four. Boyce and Hart eventually did hit the Top 10 on their own in 1968 with "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonight." Two years later, their star had faded and they tried to revive their career with an appearance on Bewitched that only served to emphasize two sad facts of life: fringed vests and cowboy hats can't cover up goofy dance moves, and women should not attempt to turn horse blankets into slacks.

4. The Munsters dig on The Standells

The Standells are familiar to Boston Red Sox fans thanks to their hit "Dirty Water," which is played after every home victory. We hate to burst anyone's bubble, but the Standells are from California, not Massachusetts. Worse still, they didn't even write the song-- their producer did. A year before "Dirty Water" was released, The Standells played a command performance on The Munsters, during which they played a version of The Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and another song called "Come On and Ringo." (Hardcore Standells fans have been searching for a copy of this tune forever, and it still hasn't turned up anywhere, not even on a bootleg.) Click here to see the performance.

5. The Seeds (and some Mothers-in-Law) inspire the Ramones

The Mothers-in-Law was a Desilu production that lasted two seasons in the late 1960s. The show centered around next-door neighbors whose adult children married each other and moved into the garage (converted into an apartment) behind their parents' houses. In one episode, the kids decide they want to manage a rock band called The Warts, but they need their parents' financial help. "The Warts" were actually the proto-punk band The Seeds, who performed their garage classic "Pushin' Too Hard." (The late Joey Ramone later revealed that this song was what inspired him to become a singer and form a band.)

6. Rock rocks the F Troop

How much influence did the then-new genre of rock and roll have overall on 1960s popular culture? Enough so that bands turned up in the strangest places, including post-Civil War America. An appearance by long-haired men bearing guitars was guaranteed to bring in ratings, so a ragtag group of musicians called The Bedbugs popped up on an episode of F Troop, playing electric guitars on a stagecoach (of course). Eagle-eyed viewers will note that two of the Bedbugs were Lowell George and Richie Hayward, who would later gain fame as founding members of Little Feat.

7. The Flintstones get Sly

The Beau Brummels were one of several successful bands to emerge from the Bay Area during the mid-1960s. Listening to their hit "Laugh, Laugh" (performed here on The Flintstones), with its oh-so-mellow Summer of Love ambiance, it's hard to believe that it was produced by Sly Stewart, who would later go on to front the funk/R&B group Sly and the Family Stone.

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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]