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The Quick 10: Nine Women Who Inspired Beatles Songs (and one song not inspired by a woman)

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I'm going through a serious Fab Four phase at the moment, I think because of the eminent release of The Beatles: Rock Band (09.09.09, people, it's just around the corner!!). When I was younger I was fanatical, bordering on obsessive, but I think it's tempered nicely over the years... although it does rear its ugly head every now and then. I'll forgive them for not having a song about Stacy (not many bands do), but I will admit to being slightly envious of the nine girls below... and the one girl who doesn't really exist.

prudence1. Prudence of "Dear Prudence" from the White Album is about Mia Farrow's sister (pictured). The sisters were in India studying under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the same time the Beatles were in the late "˜60s, and Prudence was very focused on meditation and stayed in her room alone a lot. This was John's musical plea to get her to come out and join the group.
2. Lucy of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" from Sgt. Pepper was a real person. The song was not about drugs, as was (and still is) rumored at the time. Years later, when John admitted that other songs were, in fact, about drugs, he maintained that Lucy was based on a drawing his son Julian had done of his classmate, soaring through a bejeweled sky.

3. Sadie, another White Album gal, wasn't actually a gal at all. "Sexy Sadie" was about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom the Beatles had had a falling out with. They were under the impression that the holy man had made a pass at Mia Farrow and other girls studying with him and were convinced that he "made a fool of everyone" who had some to learn from him. Most of the group, including Mia Farrow, later said Maharishi's actions had been misinterpreted and they were sorry to have doubted him.

4. Martha is another one who wasn't really a girl "“ at least, not a human girl, although she was utterly devoted to Paul McCartney. "Martha My Dear" was named for his beloved English Sheepdog. He has since admitted that the title may have borne Martha's name, but the lyrics were "probably" about his ex-fiancee Jane Asher.

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5. Eleanor Rigby, the haunting girl from Revolver, has a couple of different stories. The song was almost "Daisy Hawkins," but McCartney decided that it didn't quite flow and began searching for a more suitable name. The Beatles had just starred in Help! with Eleanor Bron, and McCartney later said her name was probably rattling around in his subconscious when he chose Rigby's identity. The surname part of it came from a shop called Rigby "“ McCartney said he felt it was a very ordinary name, but rather special all at the same time. He put the two together, and sad Eleanor Rigby was born. However, there's rumor of an Eleanor Rigby who actually lived in Woolton, England, where John and Paul used to hang out back in the early days. That's her gravestone in the picture. "It's possible that I saw it and subconsciously remembered it," McCartney later said.

6. Pam of Abbey Road's "Polythene Pam" was a fan from the Cavern Club days, but her name was Pat. By her own admission, she used to tie polythene (Polyethylene, the stuff shopping bags are made of) into knots and eat it. So"¦ that's weird. But even stranger is John's later admission that some of the song was based on a girl named Stephanie who was dating poet Royston Ellis in 1963. She liked to dress in polythene for kinky sex purposes, although John said he may have stretched the truth a little bit. "She didn't wear jackboots and kilts," he said. "I just sort of elaborated. Perverted sex in a polythene bag. Just looking for something to write about."

julia7. "Julia," on the surface, was about John's mother who was hit by a car and killed when he was just 17. But it's also about Yoko Ono, whose first name means "Ocean child" in Japanese. Lennon had a lot of mother (and parent) issues, so it's not surprising that he tangled up mother and wife all in one song.
8. Rita from "Lovely Rita," another Sgt. Pepper tune, has no cryptic meaning "“ it's really about meter maids. After the song came out, a woman who did actually issue violations said she gave McCartney a ticket when he was parked at Abbey Road Studios. Her name was Meta Davies, and he came out just as she was placing the ticket on his car. According to Davies, he looked at her signature on the ticket and asked if her name was really Meta, apparently finding "Meta" and "meter" to be rather lyrical. But McCartney says nay. "'Wow, that woman gave me a ticket, I'll write a song about her' "“ never happened like that," he commented. Rather, he said, he was amused by the American term "meter maid" and found that "Rita" rolled off the tongue nicely when coupled with the phrase.

9. Melanie Coe isn't mentioned by name in Sgt. Pepper's "She's Leaving Home," but she inspired it just the same. Paul had seen a headline in The Daily Mail about a 17-year-old girl who had run away from home, leaving her parents with no clue as to why she had left. She says he got most of the details right, except that she didn't met "a man from the motor trade," but a casino worker; she also split in the afternoon and not the morning.

10. "Michelle" from Rubber Soul isn't really about anyone in particular, and was in fact just a little song Paul messed around with before the Liverpudlian lads were famous. He had been at a party where he felt some art school guys were being pretentious with their French singing and goatees and decided to make up a song to mock them. It included a lot of faux-French and groaning noises. During the Rubber Soul sessions, John asked Paul if he remembered the little faux-French ditty and encouraged him to make it a real song.

Share your favorite and tell us why in the comments. And is anyone as pumped as I am about the game?!
Have a Q10 request? I'm on Twitter and I'm all ears! Err... all keys. Something.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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