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10 Performers Who Died Onstage

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Whether it was a lackluster crowd or weak material, performers love trading stories about the night they absolutely died while doing their shtick. Here are 10 examples of performers that actually did die onstage. On the bright side, they did shuffle off the mortal coil while doing the thing they loved.

1. Lee Morgan

On February 19, 1972, Lee Morgan, one of the greatest trumpet players of the 20th century, was playing a run-of-the-mill Tuesday night gig at Slugs in New York City. Between sets he got into an argument with his wife Helen. She left the club, came back with a gun, and shot Morgan in the chest while he was onstage. He died almost immediately. He was 33 years old.

2. Moliere

On February 21, 1673, the French playwright and actor was performing the lead role in his newly penned play The Imaginary Invalid when a coughing fit overwhelmed him. He was dragged offstage and died not long after. Ironically, the play was about a chronic hypochondriac.

3 and 4. Felix Motti and Joseph Keilberth

These two classical music conductors both collapsed and died (in 1911 and 1968 respectively) while conducting the same opera, Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, at the same place, the National Theater in Munich. If I were a conductor, I’d stick to Beethoven.

5. Harry Einstein (AKA Parkyakarkus)

The comedian and father of Albert Brooks died in 1958 while performing in a roast of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at the legendary Friars Club. He collapsed onto the shoulder of Milton Berle.

6. Alexander Woolcott

Woolcott was a commentator for The New Yorker and a member of the Algonquin Round Table. Taking part in a radio show with several others in 1943 to discuss the rise of Hitler, Woolcott suffered a massive heart attack. Announcers said nothing on the air about his demise and listeners later commented that Mr. Woolcott seemed much less talkative and opinionated than usual.

7. Jerome Rodale

A proponent of organic farming and a bit of a health-guru, Rodale claimed, “I’m going to live to be 100, unless I’m run down by some sugar-crazed taxi driver.” He didn’t. Live to be 100, that is. He died during the taping of an interview on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. He was 72.

8. Dick Shawn

Shawn might be best known to you as the actor who played Lorenzo St. DuBois/Adolf Hitler in Mel Brooks’ film The Producers. He was a frequent guest throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s on The Ed Sullivan Show and Friars Club Roasts. During a 1987 performance at UC San Diego, he collapsed after performing a bit about surviving a nuclear attack. The audience thought it was part of the act. When someone came onstage and started giving Shawn CPR, they still thought it was part of the act. When the paramedics arrived, the audience finally left the theater.

9. Tiny Tim

Yes, that Tiny Tim. Yes, of course he had just performed “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” It was 1996 in Minneapolis. As he turned to leave the stage, a heart attack felled the ukulele icon.

10. “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott

A founding member of metal band Pantera, guitarist Darrell Abbott was shot and killed in 2004 while playing a gig with his new band Damageplan in Columbus, OH. The deranged (and possibly mentally ill) shooter then opened up on other members of the audience, killing three more and injuring seven.

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]