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If You Want to Succeed in Yacht Rock, You'll Need a Ridiculous Name

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Sparked by a popular online video series by the same name, Yacht Rock, the genre of music produced by artists such as Christopher Cross and Kenny Loggins during the late 1970s and early 1980s, has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts over the past several years. The term yacht rock comes from the nautical references that many soft rock artists of that era included in their songs, and, more generally, the laidback feeling the music inspires.


Today, a handful of cover bands don nautical attire—and, in some cases, fake mustaches—to pay tribute to the likes of Toto, Boz Scaggs, and Steely Dan. In an effort to better understand the phenomenon, I caught up with Topper Dandy, the leader of the Virginia-based yacht rock band Three Sheets to the Wind.

Funny Names

One of the common characteristics of a yacht rocker is a ridiculous stage name.

The other members of Three Sheets to the Wind include Captain Max Power, Danny Marnier, Sonny Pocket, Walter Ego, Christian Meat, and David Buoy. The Knights of Monte Carlo, a California-based yacht rock band, feature Doc Spiders, Nelson JC Borealis, Brad Bayliner, and Bobby Colada.

“The number one rule we’ve had since day one is to take the music seriously, but never ourselves,” Dandy says.

The members of the Atlanta-based Yacht Rock Revue have eschewed the use of fake names, but they don’t take themselves too seriously, either. Their Facebook page describes their sound as “The music you listen to at the dentist’s office while getting your teeth cleaned.”

The Yacht Rock Fanbase

Yacht rock cover band fans run the gamut from 50- and 60-somethings who grew up listening to soft rock, to a younger following that may be hearing the songs for the first time.

“It's not necessarily a nostalgia kick,” Dandy says of the yacht rock experience. “For some it is, of course, but because the shows are a participatory experience for the audience--dressing nautically, rocking fake mustaches, drinking Jack & Tab--there's an appeal for people simply looking to go out and have a good time.”

A good time is what yacht rockers aim to provide, and Three Sheets to the Wind will play more than 40 gigs this year. “Ultimately, that’s what yacht rock bands do—provide an experience through music that incorporates the image and the lifestyle of the ‘smooth’,” Dandy says.

The Online Series and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

In 2005, an online video series titled Yacht Rock profiled the fictionalized lives of soft rock stars including Loggins and McDonald during the genre’s peak. The series was canceled after 12 episodes but it inspired a number of today’s yacht rock cover bands. John Oates of Hall & Oates credits the series with resurrecting interest in his music, while McDonald said he thought it was hilarious. Jimmy Fallon has featured two yacht rock parties on his late-night show in recent years, with Christopher Cross and Robbie Dupree performing live.

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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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