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Where Are They Now? 6 Artists Who Got Lots of Airplay in 1996

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1996 was a heady time for popular music. We were learning the "Macarena," trying to shake the bizarrely infectious "I Love You Always Forever" from our brains, and cringing at Alanis Morissette's misuse of the word "Ironic." Okay, maybe it was less "heady" and more "crappy."

1996 was also the year I graduated from high school, and left my sleepy hometown of Venice, Florida. We all know where I ended up -- I'm a big rich* blogger now! -- but let's take a look back at some artists who got a lot of airplay back in 1996.

Boyz II Men

"One Sweet Day" (with Mariah Carey) - #2 Billboard Top 100, 1996

Boyz II Men had tremendous success in the 90's, but 1996's "One Sweet Day," recorded with Mariah Carey, became the longest running number one song in US chart history (really!). The group continued to record albums periodically until 2003, when they took a break from the music industry.

So where are they now? Hosting a "Love Cruise." For Valentine's Day, 2011, the Boyz hosted a cruise in which cruise members enjoyed the following (I'm quoting from their completely amazing website):

• Boyz II Men Welcome Cocktail Party
• Concert performance by Boyz II Men
• Additional Fan Appreciation Concert by Boyz II Men
• Special Ceremony - Renew Your Wedding Vows Onboard with Boyz II Men
• Singles Mixer with Boyz II Men
• Photo Session with Boyz II Men in small groups
• Question & Answer Session with Boyz II Men
• Formal Prom Night
• Poker Tournament
• Deck Party with Boyz II Men & Guest DJ
• Gift Bag
• Other onboard drawings for exclusive Boyz II Men Event Opportunities!
• Full Access to all of Carnival's activities and facilities!
• VIP Concierge at your service!

Prices ranged from $639 per person all the way up to $5000.

The Boyz also announced that a 20th Anniversary Album would be released in 2011, including "all four members" of the group (original member Michael McCary had been sitting out since 2003).

Gin Blossoms

"Follow You Down/Til I Hear It From You" - #15 Billboard Top 100, 1996

For one member of the Arizona-based Gin Blossoms, their first album really was a "New Miserable Experience." They named their band after a slang term for rosacea, which can be triggered by drinking. After years of failure to record a full-length album, 1992's debut "New Miserable Experience" became a massive success (remember "Hey Jealousy" and "Found Out About You?") -- and its hits were written by Doug Hopkins, who was kicked out of the band while the album was being recorded -- reportedly due to alcoholism. Hopkins committed suicide shortly after he received the gold record for "Hey Jealousy" in the mail. He was in treatment for alcoholism at the time.

The band's sophomore album, 1996's "Congratulations I'm Sorry" included the hit "Follow You Down" (which was, mercifully, not written by Hopkins). The band broke up in 1997 and focused on side projects. They reunited in 2002, albeit with lineup changes, again triggered in part by alcoholism. They released a few more records, most recently "No Chocolate Cake," which hit #1 on Amazon's MP3 album chart upon its release -- though it fell off the charts shortly thereafter.

Gin Blossoms suffered a variety of lineup changes since its inception in 1987, and now has a total of six ex-members (this band is a five-piece, so turnover is remarkably high). So where are they now? They're on tour, with dates scheduled through September 2011.

Los del Río

"Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" - #1 Billboard Top 100, 1996

Known for their quadruple-Platinum song "Macarena," Los del Río are a Spanish folk duo who first released a Spanish-language version of "Macarena" in 1993. Lots of alternate versions followed, including the famous "Bayside Boys Mix" (with English vocals), released in 1995 and dominating the US charts in 1996. Today, the duo are still recording and performing; they released a 15th anniversary edition of the song in 2008 entitled "Quinceañera Macarena" (a Quinceañera is a girl's fifteenth birthday celebration -- the eponymous Macarena is finally of age).

So where are they now? Still playing Andalusian folk music, among other things. Check out their official MySpace page for their rendition of "Hey Jude," among other amazing tracks. You can also check out their Spanish-language website (warning: plays music!)

Seven Mary Three

"Cumbersome" - #39 Billboard Hot 100, 1996

Seven Mary Three started as an acoustic duo at William & Mary, before adding drums and bass (and a heavy grunge influence) to the mix. The name "Seven Mary Three" comes from the callsign for Larry Wilcox's character on the TV show CHiPS. 7M3's hit song "Cumbersome" actually reached the #1 spot on the US Mainstream Rock charts in 1996, and received tremendous airplay -- and it continues to be so popular that band members say their audiences often leave the concert after the song is played.

7M3 continued to release albums with steadily declining chart positions through the 90s, until they left Atlantic Records. Over the past decade they've released four albums (the most recent is a live acoustic record from 2010) on a series of progressively smaller labels. So where are they now? They're on tour, sometimes playing acoustic sets -- a bit like their William & Mary days.

Spacehog

"In the Meantime" - #1 (Peak) Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks, 1996

British glam rockers Spacehog had a series of hits in 1996, and "In the Meantime" was their biggest. Featuring a hooting falsetto vocal hook and a sample from a Penguin Cafe Orchestra song, "In the Meantime" was a staple of 1996 modern rock radio, followed closely by "Cruel to Be Kind," also from the album "Resident Alien." (Although the band's founders were all from Leeds, they met and formed the band in New York City -- offering a possible explanation for the record's title.)

So where are they now? Well, you can play "In the Meantime" in Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band 3; samples of the vocal hook are found in Girl Talk's "All Day" (released in late 2010); and guitarist Antony Langdon appeared as an assistant/musical partner to Joaquin Phoenix in the 2010 film I'm Still Here -- he did some particularly nasty things (ahem, including defecating on the hood of a car) in the film. The band's last album was released in 2001, although they've had a few reunion shows over the years, with the last in 2009. Their web presence is mostly dead, except for an occasionally updated MySpace page.

311

"Down" - #1 (Peak) Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, 1996

311 were the funkiest group to emerge from Nebraska in the mid-90's (I had to qualify that statement so much because Omaha is actually home to lots of underground hip-hop and even a variety of minor funk acts). The name "311" comes from the Omaha police code for indecent exposure -- which they learned after the band's original guitarist was arrested for streaking. In 1996, the band appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Late Show with David Letterman playing "Down" -- the song was everywhere, and I clearly remember hearing it in the waiting room at the dentist's office. Now that's mainstream success.

So where are they now? The band went on to produce albums every few years (most of which were commercially successful -- they routinely chart, and many have gone Gold or Platinum); their tenth album is slated for release in 2011. Like Boyz II Men, 311 hosted the 311 Caribbean Cruise in March of 2011 (starting on, wait for it: 3-3-11). Amenities included live performances by 311, as well as the opportunity to party with a boat full of 311 fans.

Artists We Lost

There were many popular 1996 acts who have since died. We lost Bradley Nowell of Sublime in 1996 -- the year most people heard his band for the first time. On the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart for 1996, we see hits from 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., Blues Traveler, and TLC -- we lost 2Pac in 1996, Biggie in 1997, Bobby Sheehan (of Blues Traveler) in 1999, and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes (of TLC) in 2002. And those are just the deaths I could easily pick out from the list.

Disclaimer & Conclusion

* = Statement of blogger's wealth may be an extreme exaggeration.

So what have we learned in this romp through the hits of fifteen years ago? It's all about the cruises. Just keep making records, and eventually your band will amass a large enough fanbase for a cruise -- that's when you know you've arrived. "I'm on a boat!"

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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