The Late Movies: Happy Birthday!

Today I'm celebrating my 25th birthday. Although a Neil Diamond concert sent my mom into labor with me, I don't possess much musical talent. The same cannot be said of many who share my birthday—from Barry White to Emmy Rossum, they're a musically talented bunch. The following are just a few of the musicians who are celebrating their birthday today.

Amanda Jenssen

Swede Amanda Jenssen may only be 22, but she's a vocal powerhouse.

She was a runner-up on Sweden's Idol 2007, and her 2008 debut album reached number 1 on the Swedish charts, becoming one of the most sold albums that year. In 2009, her single "Happyland," above, debuted at number 3 on the Swedish Singles chart, and its album by the same name was certified gold after just one week of sales. Jenssen won two Grammis (the Swedish equivalent of the Grammy) for the album, for best female artist and best composer (with Pär Wiksten).

Emmy Rossum

She may be more well-known for her acting, but 25-year-old Emmy Rossum is just as talented a singer (and she was actually singing long before she was acting).

Rossum joined the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus at age 7 after she sang "Happy Birthday" in all 12 keys for the chorus director. Most people didn't hear her singing, though, until she starred in the Phantom of the Opera movie, after which she received several offers to record classical albums. She chose instead to record a contemporary album, Inside Out; "Slow Me Down" (above) was the only single off that album.

Jonatan Cerrada

Belgian pop star Jonatan Cerrada, the first winner of French Pop Idol, turns 26 today.

Cerrada won the first season of À la Recherche de la Nouvelle Star (Looking for the New Star; later just Nouvelle Star) in 2002, when he was not quite 16. He released his debut album, Siempre 23, shortly thereafter. His "Mon Paradis" was the soundtrack to the French version of the movie Robots shortly before his second album, La Preuve du contraire, was released. "Libre comme l'air" (above) was a Belgium-only single off that album. After a guest role on the Spanish comedy/drama Un Paso Adelante and "Ruban Noir," a partly-in-Spanish song that was a download hit, he's become more popular with Spanish-speakers and is working on a third album (without a major label) all in Spanish.

September (Petra Marklund)

27-year-old Swedish singer Petra Marklund is better known as just "September."

September started recording at the age of 12 and signed a record deal at 17. "Looking for Love" (above) was her second single off her second album, In Orbit. The single peaked at #17 on the Swedish charts. She wasn't introduced to the U.S. and the rest of Europe until her fifth single off In Orbit, but she was still just 19. Since then, she's released two more albums, competed in the Sopot International Song Festival in Poland, starred on the reality show Så mycket bättre, and nominated for a Grammis, an MTV Europe Music Award, an NRJ Music Award, and as Biggest Music Export from Sweden (2008).

Idan Raichel

The 34-year-old Israeli has enjoyed great success as a singer-songwriter-musician after a stint in the Israeli army and a job as a counselor to troubled youths and immigrants, mostly Ethiopian Jews.

Raichel is best known for The Idan Raichel Project, for which he teamed up with 70 different musicians of varied nationalities and skills; the project was considered to be too "ethnic" to be taken on by most of the Israeli labels, but was signed by Helicon Records and became an immediate hit. Above is The Idan Raichel Project's "Other People's Dreams." For live performances, Raichel selected just 7 of his musician partners to perform with him and be representative of the project as a whole. He has since released two more studio albums and a "greatest hits" album.

Ben Folds

Ben Folds, 45 today and father to twins, wrote "Still Fighting It," below, for his son Louis on the album Rockin' the Suburbs; Louis' sister Gracie got a track in her name on the later album Songs for Silverman.

Folds may be best-known for Ben Folds Five, for which he was frontman and pianist, or for doing the Over the Hedge soundtrack, or for his Chatroulette-based "Ode to Merton" video that became a YouTube sensation. Since embarking on a solo career upon the breakup of Ben Folds Five, Folds has frequently collaborated with other musicians, including Weird Al Yankovic, Regina Spektor, and William Shatner. Many of his songs and videos are humorous to some degree; they're also frequently peppered with curse words.

Dino Merlin

Bosnian singer/songwriter/musican Edin Dervišhalidovi?, known simply as "Dino Merlin," turned 49 today.

Merlin has been the lead singer and songwriter of the band Merlin since he formed it in 1983; he began his solo career eight years later. He's released 5 studio albums with the band and another 5 as a solo artist. The first national anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina, "Jedna si, jedina," was written by Merlin, who competed three times in the Eurovision Song Contests, once in 1993, again in 1999, and most recently this year, when he came in sixth. "Undo" (above) is his most recent single.

Mylène Farmer

49-year-old French-Canadian singer Mylène Farmer began her climb towards fame as a model.

Farmer released her first single at age 23; she's had 51 more singles since then, with 12 of them reaching #1 on the French charts. Her 20th single, "XXL" (above), debuted at #1 and had easier to understand lyrics than her previous singles. She's released 8 albums over the years and has also written 2 books, starred as Catherine Degrâce in the 1994 film Giorgino, and voiced Princess Selenia in the French version of Arthur and the Invisibles and its two sequels.

Barry White

Today would have been Barry White's 67th birthday.

White began in the music business in his 20s as a songwriter; it wasn't until the '70s that he began his solo singing career. Since 1973, he's had 6 studio albums go gold and 3 to go platinum (one of which is two times platinum), as well as 3 compilation albums that went platinum (one of which is two times platinum), but he only had one single ("Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe") that reached #1 on the U.S. singles chart. (6 reached #1 on the U.S. R&B chart.) He also worked as a producer and a voice actor.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]