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9 Things You Probably Don't Know About The Beatles

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Today is 09/09/09, and you know what that means!

The big Beatles: Rock Band release. (GET IT? Number 9, number 9, number 9...) To get you in the mood, here are 9 rather obscure facts about those four lads from Liverpool that we bet you don't know. (Nein?)

1. Before Lennon/McCartney there was McCartney/Lennon

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If you pick up a Beatles album today, you'll notice the songs are credited to Lennon-McCartney, in alphabetical order, thanks to a longstanding agreement between the two songwriters whereby each would get full credit no matter who came up with the tune or lyric first. But this alphabetical listing was not always the case. The credits on their first album, Please Please Me, list the eight original compositions to McCartney-Lennon. One reason for this could be that Paul McCartney wrote "P.S. I Love You" and "Love Me Do," the first two songs on the album. The McCartney-Lennon credit would appear twice more on McCartney's 1976 live album, Wings Over America, and once again on 2002's Back in the U.S., albeit much to Yoko Ono's disapproval.

2. The Ed Sullivan Show was not The Beatles' American TV debut

Picture 2For that matter, CBS can't really claim bragging rights, NBC can. Yes, it's true: NBC scooped CBS, as The Beatles made their American television debut on NBC's evening news show, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, not The Ed Sullivan Show, nor Walter Cronkite's evening news. Although virtually unknown in America at the time, the band was causing mass hysteria in England and all three U.S. television networks sent camera crews to film their November 16, 1963, concert in Bournemouth. NBC used the footage in a four-minute segment on November 18th, but CBS waited until November 22nd to air the story during its morning newscast with Mike Wallace. The network planned to air the story on its evening newscast as well, but just hours after the Beatles story was broadcast, Walter Cronkite broke the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. On December 10th, Cronkite aired the Beatles segment during prime-time, which set into motion the Beatlemania that culminated with their February 1964 performances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

3. Eric Clapton almost replaced George

zap_claptonAnd then there were three... For five days in January of 1969, the Fab Four were a lonesome trio. George Harrison, the "quiet Beatle," as the media called him, decided to bow out after months of personal differences with his fellow bandmates. A serious songwriter who penned classics like "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," Harrison felt he was being ignored by Lennon and McCartney, who played his tunes with little enthusiasm. On January 10, 1969, Harrison finally had enough and quit the band. His announcement caused John Lennon to quip, "If he doesn't come back by Tuesday, we get Eric Clapton." Harrison, of course, came to his senses, and returned to the band on January 15th, allowing The Beatles to move forward with their recording of a little-know album called Abbey Road.

4. The initial album cover for Yesterday and Today was banned

602px-The_Beatles_-_Butcher_CoverThe Beatles' tenth Capitol album was unique not only for its rare mixes of tracks from Rubber Soul and Help, but for its controversial "butcher" cover. The original album artwork featured the four smiling members of the band dressed in white butchers' overalls covered with mutilated plastic baby dolls and slabs of raw meat. Original copies of the "butcher" cover were eventually pulled and replaced with a more fan-friendly photograph of the band. It was rumored that the Yesterday and Today cover was a response to the way Capitol Records had "butchered" their previous albums. Today, copies of the original album cover are in high demand and have been sold for as high as $10,500 at auction.

5. "She Said She Said" was inspired by an LSD trip with Peter Fonda

During a break from their American tour in late August 1965, The Beatles rented a house in Beverly Hills. Although the Spanish-style mansion was hidden from plain view, their address eventually became public knowledge and the LAPD had to be called in to ward off eager fans. Since it was impossible to leave home, the Beatles played host to dozens of musicians and actors, including the then-unknown Peter Fonda. The entire band, excluding Paul McCartney, dropped acid with Fonda. According to Lennon, the drug-induced Fonda kept telling the band, "I know what it's like to be dead" and "You're making me feel like I've never been born." Lennon would later use both phrases in the lyrics to "She Said She Said."

6. Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana

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It was Bob Dylan who introduced the Beatles to marijuana at the Delmonico Hotel in New York on August 28, 1964. The boys knew Dylan from a mutual friend and just assumed John, Ringo, Paul and George had smoked before, given their "I get high" lyrics in "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Dylan was unaware that the lyrics are actually "I can't hide," and was later informed that none of the Beatles had ever smoked marijuana. Guess Bob thought it was high time to change all that.

7. Paul McCartney met Yoko Ono before John did

Yoko Ono claims to have been introduced to John Lennon by a mutual friend at her November 9, 1966, art exhibit in London. According to Yoko, she had never heard of the Beatles and had to be told who John Lennon was. However, Paul McCartney, likes to tell a different story about how she and John met. It was late 1965 and Yoko had knocked on Sir Paul's door. She was helping John Cage, a personal friend of McCartney's, with a book he was working on, and wanted to include some of the Beatles' work. Paul declined her offer, but suggested that she see Lennon. Yoko took Paul's advice and Lennon wound up giving her the original handwritten lyrics to "The Word" from Rubber Soul. The lyrics were later reproduced in Cage's book Notations.

8. Yes, there was a "Fifth Beatle," and he was the inspiration for their mop tops

Picture 3The "Fifth Beatle" has become synonymous with people who were at one time closely associated with the Fab Four. But for fifteen months in the early 1960s The Beatles were, in fact, a quintet. Stuart Sutcliffe, an abstract painter and art school buddy of John Lennon's, was the original bassist for the band during their heady Hamburg days. Paul McCartney never thought Sutcliffe was talented enough (read: Paul was envious of Sutcliffe and Lennon's friendship). Although it was Sutcliffe and Lennon who named the band The Beatles (they were both fans of Buddy Holly and the Crickets), Sutcliffe eventually left the band in August 1961 to enroll in the Hamburg College of Art. The "Fifth Beatle" never lived long enough to see his former bandmates become an international success—he died of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 21. Sutcliffe's tenure with the band, albeit brief, had a lasting effect on their image. He was the first to wear the famous "mop top" hairstyle, which Lennon and The Beatles adopted in Sutcliffe's honor shortly after his death. (In the photo, Sutcliffe is at the far right. Notice the band's original drummer, Pete Best. Ringo would not join the band until August of 1962.)

9. Let It Be was not their last album

Although it was released in 1970, a year after Abbey Road, Let It Be was actually recorded in early 1969, making it officially their penultimate album. Originally conceived as a back-to-roots record entitled Get Back, the band was unhappy with the version mixed by producer Glyn Johns and temporarily shelved the album to work on Abbey Road. After the success of Abbey Road, studio tapes from the Get Back sessions were given to the legendary Phil Spector. Spector created a new version of the album and finally released it as Let It Be in 1970. McCartney was upset with the finished copy, particularly Spector's mix of "The Long and Winding Road," which Paul had originally conceived as a spare piano ballad. It was the beginning of the end for The Beatles and the band broke up shortly before the album's release. In 2003, a new version of the album, titled Let It Be"¦ Naked was released. According to McCartney, the album's stripped down sound was what he had originally intended for the album.




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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]