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The Late Movies: Happy Birthday, Motown!

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Fifty years ago, Berry Gordy, a songwriter for local Detroit acts like The Matadors and Jackie Wilson, borrowed $800 from his family and founded two record labels that became incorporated a year later as Motown Record Corporation. In its half-century of existence Motown forged an unmistakable sound in popular music, turned a number of artists into superstars and legends (from 1961 to 1971 alone, the label churned out 110 top 10 hits), and helped bridge the racial divide with songs that everyone, regardless of their color, could dance to.

To celebrate the last 50 years and, we hope, many more to come, here are some of my personal favorite (highly subjective and whittled down from a much larger list) Motown classics, plus a few surprises at the end.

Too Busy Thinking About My Baby

"Too Busy Thinking About My Baby," written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and Janie Bradford (the receptionist at Mowtown's Hitsville U.S.A. studio who helped Strong write Motown's first big hit, "Money (That's What I Want)", while the two were still in high school) was first recorded by The Temptations and later by Jimmy Ruffin and Marvin Gaye. Gaye's 1969 is my favorite of the three, mostly because the bass line that drops in 10 seconds into the song hits you like kick in the chest.

I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)

"I Can't Help Myself" was written and produced by Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr., who were Motown's main production team and considered by many critics to be one of pop music's greatest songwriting teams (I concur). The Four Tops recorded the song in 1965 and it hit number one on the R&B charts and the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for two non-consecutive weeks. Rolling Stone ranked the song #415 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Baby Love
Another Holland-Dozier-Holland composition, "Baby Love" was recorded by the Supreme in 1964. It was the groups most successful single, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks, number one on the UK Singles Chart for two weeks and #324 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. This song also made the Supremes the first Motown artists to have more than one number-one single (they continue to hold the record for most number-one hits with twelve).

Ball of Confusion
I'm putting up two videos for this song. One is a live version from The Smokey Robinson Show, because why bother doing a Motown video post if you don't get to see the Temptations dance? The other is an imovie project that falls into my favorite YouTube genre: music video for a song that is composed of generic images of things mentioned in the lyrics.

The Tears of a Clown
Stevie Wonder and his producer Hank Cosby wrote the music for "The Tears of a Clown," but wonder struggled with a song to go with the instrumental track. He brought it to the 1966 Motown Christmas party to see if Smokey Robinson could come up with anything for it. Robinson noted that the song "sounded like a circus," and ran with it. The song became the number-one hit on both the pop and R&B charts was The Miracles only #1 hit during Robinson's time as lead singer. Fun fact: Robinson has two children named Berry (after Motown founder Berry Gordy) and Tamla (after the Motown subsidiary label).

Dancing in the Street
The idea for the song came to producer William "Mickey" Stevenson after watching kids in the Detroit streets open up fire hydrants to keep cool in the summer. While Martha Reeves' recording was intended as a party song, "Dancing in the Street" took on additional meaning during the Civil Rights movement when organizers used it as an anthem at demonstrations. The Martha and the Vandellas' version of the song is preserved by the Library of Congress to the National Recording Registry.

Uptight (Everything's Alright)
"Uptight" was the first Stevie Wonder single that Wonder actually had a hand in writing. It also saved his career. The then-fifteen-year-old singer had had only one number-one hit and only two other singles in the Top 40. To top things off, his voice was changing and Berry Gordy worried that Wonder wouldn't be commercially viable anymore. Wonder was in danger of being dropped from the label, but "Uptight," based around an instrumental riff that Wonder had written, hit the top of the Billboard R&B Singles chart and sat there for five weeks. This video is from a 1972 Rolling Stones concert. Wonder and his entire band join the Stones for "Uptight" and then kick into "Satisfaction."

Standing in the Shadows of Motown
Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a 2002 documentary about some of the great unsung heroes of pop music. The Funk Brothers were an uncredited collection of studio musicians who performed on Motown Records' recordings between 1959 and 1972. According to the film, they played on more number-one hits than The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.

The Motown Song
I'm not normally a fan of Rod Stewart. However, seeing as we're both white guys who love soul music and can't dance, I have a soft spot for this song (and its video) about how awesome Motown is. Also: The Temptations. In a flying Cadillac. OMG. WTF. [Because this last video may start to play automatically, I've stuck it on its own page. Click the "2" below.]


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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]