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They Could've Been Beatles

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In June of 1956, a 15-year-old named John Lennon started the band that was to eventually develop into "The Beatles." In August of 1962, Richard "Ringo Starr" Starkey officially joined the soon-to-be-famous rock group, joining John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison as the final official line-up of The Beatles. But in those intervening 7 years, 27 other guys played on stage as part of the band.

Four men would go on to gain fame as The Beatles, while these 27 others would simply become footnotes in the story of the "Fab Four."

When Lennon formed the band in '56, he enlisted his pals Pete Shotton (on washboard) and Eric Griffiths (on guitar, like Lennon) at Quarry Bank School. For a few weeks, they used the name "The Blackjacks," but it didn't stick, and they changed it to "The Quarrymen," in honor of their school. Soon after, they recruited Rod Davies, who had just acquired a banjo.

From time to time, other friends would join The Quarrymen. There was Bill Smith, who frequently failed to turn up for practices and was quickly shown the door, as well as Ivan Vaughn and Nigel Walley, who were pals of Lennon and occasionally played tea-chest bass, but didn't have the tenacity to stick with the band. One of Vaughn's friends, Len Garry, then took over the role of tea-chest bass player. When Griffiths discovered his neighbor, Colin Hanton, owned a set of drums, he quickly brought him on board as the first-ever drummer for the band.

By the end of 1956, the band had 6 members:

Lennon (guitar), Shotton (washboard), Griffiths (guitar), Davies (banjo), Garry (tea-chest bass), and Hanton (drums).

July 6, 1957, is possibly the single most important day in the history of The Beatles. On that day, Vaughn brought his friend Paul McCartney, a fresh-faced 15-year-old, to meet Lennon, the band's leader. McCartney watched the band play at a local church club party; he later recalled how Lennon had "the smell of beer on his breath" when they met. McCartney was soon asked to join the band. Lennon remembered asking him right then and there, but other accounts say he was asked by Vaughn a few days later, at Lennon's invitation.

George Harrison, a pal of McCartney, joined the band on February 6, 1958. The band didn't need four guitarists (Lennon, Griffiths, McCartney, and Harrison), so, when given the chance to buy a bass guitar or leave, Griffiths chose to walk.

Around the same time, John Duff, a piano player, would occasionally join the group when they were performing at a venue with a piano.

In August 1958, poor Garry developed tubercular meningitis and spent several weeks in the hospital, as well as several more recuperating after. By the time he was back on his feet, the band had moved on. Hanton, who was older than the others and had started a "real" job, didn't want to jeopardize his new career and felt he had had enough, and so he quit.

By the end of 1958, the band had 6 members:

Lennon (guitar), Shotton (washboard), Davies (banjo), McCartney (guitar), Harrison (guitar), and—on occasion—Duff (piano).

As 1958 drew to a close, bookings for The Quarreymen had dried up. Nobody wanted to book a group with only three guitars. Around this time, Lennon was also drinking heavily to cope with his mother's death in a tragic accident; he temporarily lost interest in music and the group. After a local gig in January 1959, The Quarreymen split up.

By August, the band had re-formed, adding a new member, Ken Brown, a friend of Harrison, though the name "The Quarreymen" was never used again. The group frequently played gigs at a new local joint called the Casbah Club.

Lennon's college friend, an artist named Stuart Sutcliffe, joined the group with his brand-new bass guitar (although he was only a mediocre player). They became the local band at Liverpool Art College dances.

In January 1960, they became The Beatals.

An interesting temporary addition to the band was McCartney's kid brother, Mike McCartney. His presence, even temporarily, in the band is disputed, but there is a photo of Mike playing on the band's drum kit. Hanton, who had come back when the group re-formed, did admit to missing a few gigs in April of 1960; both he and Mike agree that Mike may have sat in for him on such occasions.

For their first ever tour, a brief 9-day stint in Scotland in May 1960, the boys recruited a drummer named Tommy Moore to accompany them. (Harrison would later recall Moore as "the best drummer we ever had," much to Ringo Starr's chagrin.)

On May 14, 1960, the drummer-less Silver-Beats (the only time they ever used this name) appeared on the bill with Cliff Roberts and the Rockers. They "borrowed" the band's drummer, Cliff Roberts himself, to fill in for them.

Two months later, on June 14, 1960, the band needed a drummer, as usual. A tough guy in the audience, known only as Ron, stepped up from the crowd and bashed away on the drums, becoming a "one night wonder." Another drummer, Norman Chapman, also played with The Beatles in June 1960, but he was called up for national service after only a few weeks with the band.

August of 1960 was another landmark moment for The Beatles with the addition of Pete Best on drums. Best would be the "fourth Beatle" for the next two years.

The group officially became "The Beatles" in August 1960 with 5 regular members:

Lennon (guitar), McCartney (guitar), Harrison (guitar), Sutcliffe (bass), and Best (drums).

Guitarist Chas Newby joined the group for just four gigs in December of 1960.

Sutcliffe quit in April 1961 while the group was playing in Hamburg, Germany. There, The Beatles backed Tony Sheridan at the Top Ten Club, recording a song called "My Bonnie" under the name "Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers." A year later, Sutcliffe died of a kick to the head he received in an attack by a few local gang members after a concert.

The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers joined forces with Karl Terry at Litherland Town Hall on October 19, 1961, to perform as "The Beatmakers." Harrison was on lead guitar and McCartney played rhythm, with Best and Freddie Marsden splitting the drumming duties. Les Chadwick played the bass guitar accompanied by McCartney on piano, with Terry joining on the vocals. Finally, Gerry Marsden played guitar and sang, while Les MacGuire playing the saxophone.

When Lennon contracted laryngitis on February 1, 1962, local singer Rory Storm stepped in for him at the last minute. Later that spring, boogie-woogie piano player Roy Young joined The Beatles on stage at the Star Club in Hamburg. Young, providing back-up vocals as well, recorded "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Swanee River" with The Beatles on May 24, 1962.

The Beatles unmercifully dropped Pete Best in August of 1962 in favor of Ringo Starr. There were a few gigs in the interim, though, so Johnny Hutchinson sat in on the skins.

August 1962, The Beatles are a "Fab Four":

Lennon (guitar), McCartney (guitar), Harrison (guitar), and Ringo Starr (drums), whose official debut was August 18, 1962.

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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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