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The Many Views of Abbey Road

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The Iain MacMillan photograph gracing the 1969 Beatles album Abbey Road made it one of the most famous album covers ever. It's such an iconic image that whenever you see a group walking single file on a zebra crossing, you automatically think of Abbey Road. It's been imitated, honored, lampooned, and recreated by countless artists. We'll take a look at just a few of their creations, but first, the original.
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The Simpsons

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The Simpsons TV show contains frequent Beatles references. This is one of three Simpsons covers that Rolling Stone used for its November 2002 issue.

The Zimmers

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The Zimmers recorded their 2007 album at Abbey Road studios, and took the opportunity to pose for a classic picture.

Lots more Abbey Road recreations after the jump.

The Yale Record

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The Yale Record rock and roll issue (winter 2007) combined the classic image of evolution with the Abbey Road picture.

T-Shirt

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In another clever combination of cultural idioms, this Threadless T-Shirt asks the question, "Why did the chicken cross Abbey Road?"

Freeda

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Freeda, the Free Range Canberra chook mascot takes the "chicken crossing the road" symbolism to heart in recreating the image.

Tribute Band

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Abbey Road LIVE! is a Beatles tribute group from Athens, Georgia. They play music from the Beatles later albums, including Abbey Road. Here they are in a publicity shot.

Pocoyo

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This image was created by Pedro Bascon, a designer for Pocoyo, a preschool television show from Spain. The characters from the show do the Beatles' walk.

Lego

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Lego artist Dunechaser committed the image to brick form. See more of his work at The Brothers Brick.

Tabby Road

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Even LOLcats get into the act! This photo was featured at I Can Has Cheezburger.

Sumo Wrestlers

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A Reuters photographer caught a group of Sumo wrestlers in New York during the World Sumo Challenge in 2005.

Paul McCartney

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You'll find Abbey Road reincarnations on other album covers more than anywhere else. Paul McCartney released an album in 1993 entitled Paul is Live, using the background of the original Abbey Road photo for its cover art. A contemporary picture of McCartney was edited in.

Kanye West

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The cover of Late Orchestration by Kanye West (recorded at Abbey Road studios) is also a tribute to the Abbey Road cover. The Red Hot Chili Peppers released The Abbey Road EP in 1988. It contained five songs that were all eventually available on other albums. The cover of the EP featured the four band members walking single file on a zebra crossing, naked except for socks over their penises. See it here.

Other Album Covers

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Many musicians have used the same imagery as cover art. See a large collection of them at Am I Right.

mental_floss

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But the best one of all is the cover of mental_floss issue #2! Mangesh says:

That was our second issue from all the way back in Oct. 2001, and it shows how little we knew about putting together a magazine.

People take their own Abbey Road pictures every time they see a chance, in London or anywhere they can cross the street. Abbey Road Studios even has a live webcam trained on the zebra crossing. Check in during English daytime to catch tourists setting up their own photo shoots! It is a busy street, as you can see in this video. Still, I can't imagine passing up the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of The Beatles.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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