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The 6 Least Necessary "Weird" Al Parodies

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Full disclosure: I loved "Weird" Al Yankovic as a kid. Loved, unconditionally and non-judgmentally, the way I loved ice cream and Nintendo, until at least the sixth grade or so. Which is to say, Al, if you're reading this, you'll always be my homie -- lord knows you've written some iconic, even legendary parodies. Songs that even people who would never claim to be a fan can name -- "Fat," "Amish Paradise," maybe even "White and Nerdy." You could make an argument that the music world needed these songs; in an industry of big egos, they took self-proclaimed kings of pop and hip-hop down a peg, and made us laugh at something that was, in retrospect, ridiculous anyway: Michael Jackson telling us he was "bad," Coolio ripping off Stevie Wonder to attain his biggest hit, etc. But Al doesn't always hit the mark, and sometimes even the songs he was parodying, popular at the time, are virtually forgotten in the intervening decades. Here are six such parodies which haven't stood the test of time.

"Addicted to Spuds"

Robert Palmer's megahit "Addicted to Love" has become one of those anthems of the 80s; "Weird" Al's parody, on the other hand, has gone gently into that good night. That's probably because it doesn't really make fun of Palmer, or the song itself, or anything real; "it's funny 'cause it's true," they say, and I've never met anyone who was addicted to potatoes. File this in the "huh?" section of Al's many food-related songs:

"I Want a New Duck"

A parody of Huey Lewis & the News' "I Want a New Drug," Al's parody sounds more like children's music than rock and roll. (Maybe that's why I liked it so much as a kid.)

"Living with a Hernia"

I actually find the complete absurdity of this song (and video) kind of charming. Plus, it's got a flossy vibe: Al's parody of James Brown's "Living in America" (from Rocky IV, Al's second Rocky-themed parody) includes lots of real information about hernias, including the names of the most common types of hernia: incomplete, epigastric, bladder, strangulated, lumbar hernia, Richter's hernia, obstructed, inguinal, and direct. (Actually, on second thought, I love this song!) I can't embed the video, but you can watch it here.

"Beverly Hillbillies (Money for Nothing)"

In a rare move, Al's actually parodying two cultural phenomena at once here: Dire Straits' hit "Money for Nothing" and the television "classic" Beverly Hillbillies. But there's an old rule in comedy that you don't want to make a joke try to do too many things at once, or it falls flat. And anyway, Beverly Hillbillies was already so ridiculous, it didn't really need to be made fun of.


If anything, I think this song should've made more fun of Forrest Gump, but I get the sense that Al actually rather liked the movie, and the song definitely pulls its punches.

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]