Original image

The Quick 10: 10 Celebrities Injured on Stage

Original image

I like Bret Michaels. Not compete-on-Rock-of-Love like, but like in the sense that I think he would be a fun guy to have a beer with. I think he has a pretty good sense of humor about himself. Which is probably why I can't stop laughing every time I see the video of him getting his feet swept right out from under him when he got floored by the scenery at the Tony Awards on Sunday night "“ you know he probably had a pretty good laugh about it himself once he got over the embarrassment (and the pain). But Bret is far from the only person to get injured at a show "“ here are 10 names you know who have hurt or otherwise humiliated themselves in front of a captive audience of thousands. And although it says my name in the byline, pretty much all of the writers and researchers here at the _floss threw in a story or two! Thanks for the quick research, guys!

fish1. Ginger Fish, Marilyn Manson's drummer, gets hurt at shows all of the time. It seems to be an unusual show if he doesn't get hurt. But on September 24, 2004, the band was playing at the Comet awards show in Cologne, Germany, when he took a double spill: first off of his drum riser, which was already pretty high, and then off of the stage totally. He fractured his skull and his wrist and was bleeding profusely. Supposedly, when he came to at the hospital, the band had left the country and he had already been replaced by another drummer for the remainder of the tour.
2. Sid Wilson of Slipknot (who, incidentally, lives down the street from me) is kind of the same way "“ if he's not doing something to potentially injure or kill himself at a concert, you're probably at a boring show. After years of crazy stunts and setting himself on fire on stage, Sid declared that he was done with all of that because he had experienced too many close calls. He apparently forgot he said that, because in 2008, just five songs into a show, he leapt off of some equipment and landed hard, shattering both heels. He finished the show before he went to the hospital and DJed the rest of the tour from a wheelchair. Here he is talking about it, if you're interested:

3. It's not just the rockers that hurt themselves on stage "“ in 2007, Beyonce was giving a concert in Orlando and was walking down some stairs when her heel got caught in the long coat she was wearing. She pitched head-first down 12 stairs, then jumped right up and continued the song like nothing had happened. She joked with her audience not to put it on YouTube, but you know they did:

4. In 1978, poor Meat Loaf fell off of a stage in Canada and broke his leg. Between that and his injured vocal cords "“ he had been touring far too much - he was unable to work for a while after that. He fell into a deep depression, getting heavily into cocaine and threatening to kill himself by jumping off of a building in New York. Let this be a cautionary tale, Bret"¦

5. In the "˜80s, sultry singer Peggy Lee, then in her late 60s, fell onstage while performing at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. She fractured her pelvis.

6. Even the young kids have mishaps "“ last year, Demi Lovato fell on stage and later chipped a tooth on her microphone. "This singing stuff is dangerous!" she Tweeted. Here's the video of her falling, but you're probably going to want to watch it on mute "“ the screaming teens (tweens?) are deafening.

7. At the beginning of his tour last year, Kenny Chesney got his foot caught between the stage and the lift that was supposed to bring him up to it. While he struggled, the band played an extended introduction of the song he was coming out to. He pried himself loose and continued the show, even though he was limping around the stage and holding his knee. By the time they got to the hospital post-show, his boot had to be cut off.

8. At the end of Nirvana's "Lithium" during their 1992 VMAs performance, bassist Krist Novoselic threw his bass up in the air, then caught it... with his face. It's been speculated that maybe he exaggerated the aftereffects a little bit "“ he staggered off of the stage in an apparent daze "“ but the paramedics were called and he did have to be bandaged up. But he was more interested in a different type of doctoring: In an interview with Rolling Stone last year, he told them that Brian May from Queen was standing behind the paramedics with a glass of champagne. "I signed the release just to get the medics away from me so I could take a sip of Mr. May's wonderful medicine," he said. Here's the bass toss - it's around 3:57.

9. Through no real fault of his own, Frank Zappa was thrown off stage during a London concert in 1971 at the Rainbow Theater. He doesn't remember what happened, but apparently a disgruntled man from the audience had rushed the stage and thrown Frank down into the orchestra pit 15 feet below the stage. His band thought he was dead from the strange angle his neck was bent at. He ended up with a crushed larynx, head trauma, pretty serious head and neck injuries, a broken leg and a fractured rib.

10. Finally, since this whole post started at the Tony Awards, it's fitting that we end with a Broadway show. In 2005, Idina Menzel was playing the role of Elphaba in Wicked - in fact, she had been for 16 months and this particular performance was scheduled to be one of her last. During one scene, a trap door is supposed to open and then an elevator should have lowered her beneath the floor, except when the door opened, the elevator had already descended, sending her crashing down and fracturing her rib. The show was stopped to explain to theater-goers what happened and Menzel's understudy stepped in to finish up the show.

And, of course, there's the video that started with this post. Nothing but a good time indeed"¦

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
Stephen Missal
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
Original image
A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]