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The Late Movies: Springsteen's Last Stand

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Philadelphia recently said goodbye to a beloved institution when the Wachovia Spectrum closed its doors forever on Halloween night. Before the 42-year-old arena's final event (a four-night stand by Pearl Jam), Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band set up shop at 3601 S Broad St. and bid farewell to the first arena they ever played (opening for Chicago in 1973) and one of the first ones they ever headlined (1976) with four shows spread over two weeks (the 13th, 14th, 19th and 20th). Here's the highlight reel.

Seaside Bar Song

The band kicked off their first night in town with "Seaside Bar Song," one of the best Springsteen songs to be left on the editing room floor (it was recorded in 1973 during the The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle sessions but left off the album).

When You Walk in the Room

The following week at Show #3, at my first show in the bunch, they opened with a cover of The Searchers' "When You Walk in the Room." Every other show I had seen on this tour started with the shotgun blast of Max Weinberg's "Badlands" drum fill, so I was a bit taken aback. Still a great song, though, and a hint at more wonderful covers to come.

I Wanna Marry You

During almost every Springsteen show, there's a point where Steven Van Zandt leads the band through an instrumental vamp while The Boss roams the stage collecting song request signs from the audience. One sign that Bruce pulled and showed to the audience on night #3 read, "Nellie, will you marry me?" With all eyes in the house on him, the guy who made the sign got down on one knee in the pit and presented Nellie with a ring. She said "yes," and Bruce was left wondering what do to because the other side of the sign read "Two Hearts," which the band had already played early in the show. "I Wanna Marry You" was the perfect song for the moment, and went off without a hitch, considering that the band hadn't played it together since 1981.

All Shook Up

I suppose the next best thing to seeing Elvis live is seeing an Elvis impersonator backed by the E Street Band. There was a guy in the pit decked out in late-era Elvis jumpsuit-and-cape glory, and Bruce was powerless to deny the King's request for a run through "All Shook Up." Bruce eventually pulls the guy up on stage and lets him take the mic, and Elvis basically steals the show from there.

Home Runs and Hungry Hearts

Allow me to jump back in time a little bit. While I wasn't able to go to all four of the final shows, I did get to see both dates at the Spectrum way back in in April, which were supposed to be the last Springsteen shows at the time. I'm happy to have squeezed a few more shows in at the arena, but April's concerts would have been worthy finales. Not only did Bruce dedicate "Thunder Road" to recently departed Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas and summon Harry's voice for a great intro...

...he also dove into the audience so his mom could join him in singing "Hungry Heart."

Now (jumping forward in time again) if you're familiar with 80s music videos and Springsteenian tradition, you know that in the Brian DePalma-directed video for "Dancing in the Dark," Springsteen pulls a young Courteney Cox onto the stage and dances with her, and he usually brings a young female fan onstage for a dance when the band plays the song on tour. Of course, at the last Spectrum show, everyone is wondering who's going to get the last dance in this holy house. Well guess what? That Mrs. Springsteen sure knows how to cut a rug.

Spirit in the Night

Towards the end of show #4, Bruce pulled out all the stops. Original E Street drummer Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez joined the band for "Spirit in the Night." The highlight of the song is arguably the smile on the kid whose hat got borrowed (and miraculously returned) by Bruce.

Higher and Higher

This was it. The highlight of the show. The highlight of all four shows (I didn't even need to see the first two). The highlight of the tour. The finest E Street moment, one could argue, since they reunited 10 years ago. Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher" (the very song that brought the Statue of Liberty to life in Ghostbusters II and helped save New York City). After a minute of tinkering, the band works out the main parts and runs with it for almost 10 minutes of key-changing, hand-clapping sing-along joy, and Philadelphia is a better place for it.

And then Spectrum said goodnight...

See Also: '60 Springsteen Facts for Bruce's 60th Birthday'

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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]