CLOSE
Original image

4 Celebrity Band Geeks

Original image

As a former band geek (clarinet, if you must know), I can really relate to Steven Clontz's musings about celebrities with musical inclinations that lean more toward marching band than rock band. If Steven looks familiar, it's because he wrote this awesome post about trombones for us back in the fall. (Plus this one. And this one, too.) Not coincidentally, he plays trombone at Auburn, where he's majoring in mathematics. -Stacy Conradt

4 Celebrity Band Geeks
by Steven Clontz

steven_logo1.jpg
Believe it or not, those dorky band nerds you knew back in high school may have amounted to more than you'd expect. Says one of those dorky band nerds. But hear me out! Any young band geeks out there, know that if you try hard enough, you too could grow up to be a politician, a rock musician, a sci-fi icon, a busty beauty, or even a mental_floss blogger. (The last being, of course, the highest form of celebrity.)

1. Bill Clinton

ClintonArsenio.jpg

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm too young to remember Slick Willie honking on his tenor sax during The Arsenio Hall Show back in 1992. (Which is conspicuously missing from YouTube, if anyone wants to get on that.) Rather, I learned of our forty-second President's sax chops via a much different source, viz., the Animaniacs theme song. In my defense, you could learn a lot from that show.

Back on topic, though. William Jefferson Blythe III (who would later take on his stepfather's last name when he realized no one would elect a "Hillary Blythe" to be Senator from New York) was born with a knack for music. In high school, he'd end up placing as the 1st chair tenor saxophone player in the Arkansas High School State Band. Also, he pledged as a brother of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary society for collegiate band members. If Former President Clinton has taught me anything, it's that if you're running for public office, learning to play a musical instrument is always a smarter choice than learning to ride a motorcycle.

2. Trent Reznor

trent20.jpgCan you imagine the frontman for Nine Inch Nails dressed up in an ill-fitting band uniform, complete with spats and that funny little hat with a feathery thing sticking out of it? (We call 'em shakos, of course.) Well, it turns out before he started pumping out industrial rock tunes, Trent Reznor played the tuba and saxophone, and participated in his high school marching and jazz bands.

Of course, if you look further into his life, you'd be surprised if Reznor wasn't a band geek. He was involved in every other musical pursuit, after all. His first instrument was the piano, which he began to play at the tender age of five. In high school, in between Queen-cover halftime shows (well, if his marching band experience was like mine), he'd be starring in his school's musical theater productions. Reznor tackled the role of the troubled apostle Judas in Jesus Christ: Superstar, and also took on the persona of Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, wherein he directed a band. I like to think it's the band geek within him that is currently sticking it to the major record labels - you'll never see my old high school marching band signing a contract!

3. Jonathan Frakes

frakes21.jpg
Wait. Who the heck is Jonathan Frakes? I'm no Trekkie, so I had to look his name up - he's the actor who portrays First Officer William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation. His inclusion in band geekdom should not come as a surprise to big TNG fans out there; I definitely recall watching an episode of the show one lazy afternoon last summer in which Frakes (as Riker) was jamming on the trombone, assumably between setting phasers to stun and seducing green women.

His citizenship among the Trombone Nation only fuels my argument that he was ten times manlier than Captain Picard. Sorry Jean-Luc, there's only one man who can get away with playing the flute, and his name is Ron Burgundy.

(I'm more of a Firefly fan than a Star Trek guy, so my apologies if I misrepresented any part of Star Trek canon. Don't send the Death Star after me!)

4. Pamela Anderson

pam-anderson.jpg
Ah... yes. If you don't know what the deal with Miss Anderson is, well, good for you. Neither do I. (Hi Mom!) But I hear she's pretty popular in some circles. I can only guess it's her band geek background that appeals to the masses. I mean, you can just imagine how the years of playing saxophone in high school contributed to her life's work. Right?

Anyway, I'm not sure there are too many jokes I can make here that befit the family-friendly nature of this site. Just remember your typical high school lunchroom discussion, and you'll get the idea of just how great the end of this post could have been.

Check out the rest of our College Weekend festivities.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES