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5 Things You Didn't Know About Slash

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You know him as the top-hat-wearing lead guitarist for Guns N'Roses, Slash's Snakepit, and Velvet Revolver. Do you know where he got his signature hat and the name "Slash," though? Let's take a look at the man who's darn near unbeatable in Guitar Hero.

1. He Grew Up With Rock

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Slash was born Saul Hudson in Stoke-on-Trent, England, in 1965. The Hudson family lived there until Saul was 11, when they moved to Los Angeles. Slash had a pretty good foot in the door of the rock world from the time he was born. His mother, Ola Hudson, designed costumes for John Lennon, the Pointer Sisters, and Diana Ross, and his father, Anthony Hudson, designed album covers for Neil Young and David Bowie, among others. The family also lived near David Geffen and Joni Mitchell. Not a bad way to get into rock music.

Slash's parents broke up in the mid-70s, and his mom started dating Bowie. In 1990 Slash talked to Rolling Stone about his childhood feelings for Bowie: "I really didn't like him that much, because he was the new guy in the house. I was really resentful."

2. Even the Nickname "Slash" Has a Famous Origin

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Film buffs know the veteran character actor Seymour Cassel as a frequent player in movies directed by John Cassavetes and Wes Anderson. (Cassel played Max Fischer's dad in Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaum's fellow elevator operator in The Royal Tenenbaums.) When Slash was growing up in Los Angeles, though, Cassel was just his buddy Matt's dad.

Even as a teenager, Saul Hudson had a lot of frenetic energy, and one day he was zipping from one room to another at a party at the Cassels' house. The actor gently ribbed Hudson's constant motion by asking, ""Hey, Slash, where ya going? Where ya going, Slash? Huh?" The nickname stuck.

3. He Shoplifted His Top Hat

In 2007 Slash told the Huffington Post that he acquired his signature top hat in 1985 when he went shopping for a memorable accessory to wear for a show in Los Angeles. Since the aspiring guitar god was broke at the time, the line between "shopping" and "shoplifting" was pretty blurred.

According to Slash, he spotted the top hat in a store called Retail Slut and fell in love. Since a top hat can't exactly be hidden under your shirt, Slash simply grabbed the hat and walked out, apparently unseen. When he got home he realized the hat looked a little plain, so he wrapped it with a belt he'd swiped on the same outing. And just like that, his trademark look was born.

Ironically, when Slash's hat was stolen during a round of Grammys after-parties a few years ago, he had to rely on the police to regain the purloined lid. Here's a video of the man himself telling the story:

4. He Also Swiped One of His Guitars

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When Slash showed up for a 2007 ceremony honoring his career at Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, he had a surprising gift for his hosts. Slash returned a guitar that he'd swiped years earlier from the dressing room of the Hard Rock in Orlando. As he told the story, "It was in the dressing room. I didn't know what it was doing there, so I took it. I mean, it was in the dressing room and no one claimed it. So I've had it all these years and been playing it."

What made Slash return the guitar that he'd pinched in an apparently perfect crime? He told reporters, "I thought what better way to honor the Hard Rock for honoring me than to give it back, sort of." At least he eventually did the right thing.

That's not the only high-profile guitar Slash has given away, though. In 1981 Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry sold his sunburst-finish 1958 Gibson Les Paul to scrounge up some money for Christmas. Ten years later, Perry got nostalgic and started looking for the guitar. He quickly found it; Slash was playing it in a Guitar Player centerfold.

Perry was one of Slash's boyhood idols, but when he called to see if Slash would sell him the guitar, Slash wouldn't budge. Perry understood and later said in an interview, "I mean if I had a chance to get hold of the white Strat Jeff Beck played on Wired, I'd have a hard time letting go of it!" In September 2000, though, Perry was playing with Cheap Trick at his own 50th birthday party when a guitar tech walked onto stage and handed him his long-lost guitar as a birthday gift from Slash.

5. He's a Friend to Elephants

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You might not know it, but Slash is a huge supporter of animals and the environment. Earlier this year he got behind the cause of Billy, an endangered Asian elephant who lives at the LA Zoo. When Slash learned that funding for the zoo's Pachyderm Forest was in jeopardy, he filmed a broadcast-and-YouTube plea urging the Los Angeles City Council to complete the new habitat.

At the time, one of the zookeepers told Reuters, "I've always been impressed with Slash's knowledge of animals. In many cases, he is even able to identify the different subspecies, something that most people can't do." Not too surprising for a guitar god who once owned 80 snakes.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.

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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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May 23, 2017
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