CLOSE
Original image

The Late Movies: Rock On, Wesley Willis

Original image

"I make music, I sing my ass off." With these words, Wesley Willis opens a short documentary shown below. Willis was a bizarre musician -- a chronic schizophrenic, his music was crude and thus considered "punk," but in a way no one had heard before. Willis's songs generally consisted of spoken-word poetry over a keyboard's built-in "demo" track, with (generally off-key) choruses sung every now and then.

Because Willis was mentally ill, it was hard to be sure how to take him or his music -- was it okay to find it funny? (In other words, could you enjoy his sense of humor and his music without feeling sorry for him?) I always thought so -- when I met him in the late 90's (I ran sound for one of his shows in Tallahassee, Florida -- and yes, he head-butted me) I got the very clear sense that what he was doing was not ironic. He was completely singing his heart out and expressing himself, and the audience I saw laughed with him, not at him. Willis died in 2003 at just 40 years of age. Below I've collected samples of his work.

Wesley Willis Documentary

Watch Willis write a song about Taco John's. "It's a whole lot of Mexican," then record one of his many "rock on" songs in the studio, get a haircut, entertain some kids at a motel, then be introduced by Jello Biafra at a concert. Warning: a bit of crude language shown onscreen but not spoken.

"Rock and Roll McDonald's," Live 2002

Willis's biggest hit. Amazing. Listen to the audience going nuts and singing along. Sample lyrics: "McDonald's will make you fat. ... They serve hamburgers. ... They'll kill your ass. ROCK AND ROLL MCDONALD'S...."

"I Wupped Batman's Ass"

Fan video. Warning: some crude language pertaining to Batman's overly high opinion of himself.

"I Whipped Spiderman's Ass"

Audio only.

"Cut the Mullet"

"Get out the hair-clippers, jerk. ... Get the rat's nest off your head. ... Tell the barber that you're sick of looking like an asshole." Fan video with various mullet pics.

Live at the Double Door, Chicago

An interview and live performance.

Wesley Willis Interview

Willis visits a high school journalism class in Bloomington, Illinois and the students interview him. Audio only, with still shots in the video.

"Wesley Willis's Joy Rides" Documentary Trailer 1 & 2

"I made about 45 albums in five years, and I'm fixing to make about 100 more."

More on Wesley Willis

Check out Willis's artist page at his record label Alternative Tentacles, Wikipedia (note the "partial discography" -- it's huge), and A Tribute to Willis by various artists. Also, a full-length documentary, Wesley Willis's Joy Rides, has just been released on DVD (trailers above).

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES