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11 Memorable Novelty Songs

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From rockin’ ghouls to rollin’ truckers, here are 11 unforgettable novelty songs.

1. “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park” (1959)

Written and Performed by Tom Lehrer

Dr. Demento once called Lehrer “the greatest satirist of the 20th Century.” On this bouncy number, the math professor turned songwriter paints an idyllic portrait of spring, then goes pitch black on couplets like: “When they see us coming the birdies all try and hide / But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.”

2. “Monster Mash” (1962)

Written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard Capizzi
Performed by Bobby Boris Pickett & The Crypt Kickers

Wannabe actor Bobby Pickett had a knack for impersonations, among them Boris Karloff. On weekends, he played in a cover band. One stormy night, Pickett mixed Karloff with “Little Darlin’” by The Diamonds, and “The Monster Mash” was created.

3. “They’re Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-ha” (1966)

Written by Jerry Samuels
Performed by Napoleon XIV

Recording engineer Jerry Samuels once spent eight months in a psychiatric hospital. Apparently the experience left an impression. This monologue of a man driven insane by his badly behaved dog was demented when played forward. And even more so on the B-side, where it’s recorded backwards!

4. “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” (1968)

Written by Al Dubin and Joe Burke
Performed by Tiny Tim

With his wobbly falsetto, dippy looks and beat-up ukulele, Tiny Tim (née Herbert Khaury) was like some time-traveling Vaudeville star. This update of a 1929 tune was his biggest hit. Tim later died of cardiac arrest while singing it on stage at a benefit in 1996.

5. “Convoy” (1975)

Written by William Fries and Louis Davis
Performed by C.W. McCall

As the CB Radio fad swept the country, one C.W. McCall (William Fries’ stage name) lent his drawl to a trucker’s drama loaded full of jargon. “10-4, good buddy” became a national catchphrase.

6. “King Tut” (1978)

Written by Steve Martin
Performed by Steve Martin & the Toot Uncommons

Boy King meets Wild and Crazy Guy. Spoofing the Tutankhamen exhibit that was touring museums in 1978, Martin wrapped every mummy cliché in the book around this hit. Best line: “He had a condo made a stone-ah.”

7. “The Curly Shuffle” (1983)

Written by Peter Quinn
Performed by Jump ‘N’ The Saddle Band

A jumpin’ jive tribute to everyone’s favorite Stooge. After it hit, the Chicago-based bar band was briefly courted by Atlantic Records, who apparently wanted them to come up with a Marx Brothers novelty song. “The Groucho Stoop”?

8. “Eat It” (1984)

Written and Performed by Weird Al Yankovic

Michael Jackson reportedly thought it was amusing enough to grant permission. The first in a long string of charting parody hits for the accordion-playing Yankovic. “Get yourself an egg and beat it.”

9. “The Chanukah Song” (1994)

Written by Adam Sandler, Lewis Morton and Ian Maxtone-Graham
Performed by Adam Sandler

After Sandler debuted his holiday song on SNL in December 1994, he went on to record three separate versions over the next decade, including one for the soundtrack of his film Eight Crazy Nights. And his list of Jewish celebrity shout-outs grew, taking in everyone from David Lee Roth to Debra Messing.

10. “Who Let The Dogs Out” (2000)

Written by Anslem Douglas
Performed by Baha Men

Who let the dogs out? You might want to blame Alex Rodriguez.

The director of promotions for the Seattle Mariners first played the Baha Men song at a Major League game as a joke on backup catcher Joe Oliver. A-Rod was there, and unfortunately, he liked the tune. Rodriguez requested that stadium officials play the song as his batter introduction music, and soon, ballparks around the nation were blaring “Who Let the Dogs Out?” over their loudspeakers.

11. “Bowie’s In Space” (2006)

Written by Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement
Performed by Flight of the Conchords

After New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk duo receive some counseling from an apparition of David Bowie, they sing this parody tribute. Best line: “I’m jamming out with the Mick Jagger-nauts / Ooh, and they think it’s pretty cool.”

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]