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"Hallelujah" 10 Ways

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"Hallelujah" is a song written by Leonard Cohen in 1984, and never officially released as a single. It has become famous mainly through cover versions, and has been recorded by hundreds of artists. In 2008, American Idol contestent Jason Castro sang a version that caused Jeff Buckley's famous cover to rocket to the top of the Billboard Hot Digital Songs chart (you know, the kids these days with their iTunes and what-not). Buckley's rendition became a Platinum single on April 22, 2008, eleven years after his death and fourteen years after its original release -- despite never being officially released as a single.

"Hallelujah" has appeared in endless TV shows and movies. According to Wikipedia, it has appeared in: The West Wing, Crossing Jordan, Without a Trace, The O.C., Scrubs, House, Criminal Minds, ER, Third Watch, Ugly Betty, and LAX; and the films Feast of Love, The Edukators, Vinterkyss and Lord of War. I also happen to know it popped up in The Watchmen, The L Word, Shrek, and probably many more. This song is everywhere.

Here are ten of the best-known versions of the song. There are actually so many "well-known" covers of "Hallelujah" that I couldn't include them all in a top 10 -- go search YouTube for more. (One very notable version is the one by Espen Lind featuring Kurt Nilsen, Alejandro Fuentes and Askil Holm, which cannot be embedded.)

1. Jeff Buckley (Live in Studio)

Although this version differs a little from his famous album version (it has a longer intro), Jeff Buckley's is the most famous cover of "Hallelujah." It was inspired by John Cale's version (#4 below) and was released on Buckley's album "Grace" in 1994.

2. Rufus Wainwright

Wainwright's version is nearly as famous as Buckley's, because it appeared on the Shrek soundtrack (despite John Cale's version actually being used in the film). Wainwright's album version is actually my favorite version of the song. Another notable Wainwright performance is from the Leonard Cohen documentary "I'm Your Man," and includes vocals from Joan Wasser (Buckley's girlfriend) and Martha Wainwright.

3. k.d lang

It's not news that k.d. lang can really, really sing. But still, her vocal control in this live version is stunning. The last note goes on forever, and the video includes nearly a full minute of standing ovation. If this doesn't make you cry, I don't know what will.

4. John Cale

John Cale is credited for popularizing Cohen's song with his early cover. This arrangement seemed really weird to me until I listened to it several times. Watch John Cale and a string quartet perform the classic song in 1992.

5. Sheryl Crow

Crow speeds it up a bit, and her guitar treatment is different than most -- she capos on the first fret. Wicked. (For guitar nerds, most versions are performed capo'd at the 5th fret and played in "G", thus sung in the key of C.)

6. Allison Crowe

Crowe's album "Tidings" featured songs recorded in a single take. Here's one of them.

7. Damien Rice

Performed in 2008, at Leonard Cohen's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Also interesting to see that he's playing capo'd at the third fret. See a more emotional/quiet version from Rice here.

8. Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris

Part of the "Hope for Haiti Now" benefit in January, 2010. Sorry about the weird popup YouTube thingies embedded here -- don't click them -- but this version actually has the best sound of any on YouTube.

9. Regina Spektor

Live in 2005, with phrasing more like Cohen's than most covers. Audio only.

10. Leonard Cohen

Of course, Leonard Cohen actually wrote the song in the first place. Check out that last verse. Cohen reportedly said of the song: "I wanted to write something in the tradition of the hallelujah choruses but from a different point of view.... It's the notion that there is no perfection -- that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still that is no alibi for anything. On the contrary, you have to stand up and say 'hallelujah' under those circumstances."

A Note for Non-Musicians

The lyrics "it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift" refer to the chord progression of the song itself as those lyrics are sung. Although the verse is about King David, the lyrics now seem like Cohen is winking at the listener -- teaching future generations with his own lyrics in the first verse how to cover his song. The chords to this bit are: C, F (the fourth), G (the fifth), A minor (the minor fall), and F (the major lift).

Today is October 10, 2010—10.10.10. To celebrate, we've got all our writers working on 10 lists, which we'll be posting throughout the day and night. To see all the lists we've published so far, click here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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