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More on Abbey Road

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As Kara mentioned this morning, Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the taking of the iconic photo that graced the cover of the Beatles' Abbey Road album and it was celebrated with all the crazed enthusiasm that a band that once claimed they were bigger than Jesus can still inspire.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to head down there for the mayhem "“ I was engaging in another British passion, "walking," and was out in the country on a 10-mile hike "“ but I have been able to catch up on some of the goings on. According to published reports, it was a madhouse: Hundreds of Beatles fans, some in costume, flocked to the famous crosswalk (called, quaintly enough, a "zebra crossing" here), singing along to the St. Pepper's Only Dartboard Band covers and stopping traffic for a few hours. From photos and TV news coverage, it looked to be an awesome party and no doubt the remaining Beatles are still smiling.

In honor of the occasion, here's a bit of Abbey Road trivia, of all sorts:

The album was originally going to be called Everest, after the brand of cigarettes the band's sound engineer, Geoff Emerik, smoked. That idea was nixed when they realized that actually going to the Himalayas to do the photo shoot would be a bit prohibitive, and they tried to think of something closer to home. Ultimately, Paul McCartney sketched out a picture of four little stick figures in the zebra crossing, and the idea was born.

Abbey Road was the final album recorded by the band, though not the final one released (that would be Let It Be).

The album, in order, included:
- John Lennon's "Come Together," which was inspired by a campaign song he wrote for Timothy Leary's bid for governor of California

- George Harrison's "Something," one of his first successful songwriting efforts

- Paul McCartney's "Maxwell's Silver Hammer"

- "Oh! Darling" also by McCartney

- The trippy "Octopus's Garden," written by Ringo Starr

- "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is one of the Beatles' longest songs "“ it cuts out at 7:44, leading some people to believe there was actually something wrong with the recording

- "Here Comes the Sun," also by Harrison

- "Because" by Lennon and inspired by Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata"

- The medley "“ it's a collection of several short songs, strung together. There's "You Never Give Me Your Money," "Sun King," "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam," "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" and "The End."

- "Her Majesty", which was originally part of the medley

It was recorded mainly on an 8-track tape, featured the Moog synthesizer, and the was one of the most successful Beatles' album ever, debuting at number one on the UK charts. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named Abbey Road the 14th greatest album of all time.

The Tributes

biggerthanjesusVirtually every tourist who crosses Abbey Road has had their photo taken in the pose (much to the chagrin of drivers), but there have been other, more famous folks, who have imitated the famous photo: The Red Hot Chili Peppers for their Abbey Road EP, naked, but for a few strategically placed (and somewhat optimistically large) socks; Homer Simpson's barbershop quartet The Be Sharps, with their album, Bigger Than Jesus; The Simpson family on the cover of Rolling Stone; Benny Hill, for his Best of Benny Hill album; Booker T and the MG's; Kanye West's Live Orchestration DVD; even SpongeBob SquarePants did it, with an episode called "Krabby Road."

The Road

Abbey Road is in NW8, the St. John's Wood section of town, and northwest of Regent's Park. There are rumors that the original zebra crossing, the one the actual Beatles' touched with their actual feet, has been removed and is now in some bunker somewhere for safekeeping. How this would even be possible is unclear, but hey, the album inspired even stranger rumors than that (see "Paul is dead").

But it is true that because of the crossing's popularity with tourists, officials have long been trying to move the crossing, claiming that it's a "death trap." Councillors from the neighborhood have cited the 22 accidents at the crosswalk since 2000 and say that it would be safer to move the crossing to a less auspicious location; fans have vowed to protest.

You can watch the crossing, any time, night or day, via the Abbey Road webcam. It's a bit weird to watch an intersection, no matter how famous, but keep your eyes peeled for tourists re-enacting the photo and angry cab drivers cursing at them.

See Also: Miss Cellania's 'Many Views of Abbey Road'


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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]