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10 Videos Spanning the Career of Whitney Houston

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Vocal legend Whitney Houston died yesterday at the Beverly Hilton. She was 48. Here are ten videos that encompass her life.

© SVEN SIMON/dpa/Corbis

Whitney was born music royalty. Her mother, Cissy, is a Grammy winner in her own right and sang backup for Elvis Presley. Her cousins included Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick and her godmother was Aretha Franklin. So it should be no surprise that Whitney was offered a recording contract at just 14, but her mother wanted her to grow up a little first. So she went into modeling, becoming the first African-American to grace to cover of Seventeen Magazine. She also pursued acting.

First TV Appearance

Whitney starred in a few commercials, but her first real role was in the TV series Gimme a Break in 1984, playing a girl named Rita who is hoping to set up a business with one of the main characters.

First Single

While her first solo single from her debut album peaked at number three, it was the start of an astonishingly successful career. Her next seven singles would chart at #1, a record that not even The Beatles, Mariah Carey, or Michael Jackson matched, and one that has stood for 24 years and counting.

Nelson Mandela Freedom Concert Performance

Whitney was a vocal supporter of the anti-apartheid movement. Even as a teen model she had refused to work with any agency that supported the practice by doing business with South Africa. In 1988 she performed at Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday charity concert in London. Whitney’s star power helped bring attention to his plight and that of all South African blacks. After apartheid ended two years later and Mandela was released, Whitney would travel to Johannesburg and meet him, as well as perform for him at a White House banquet in 1994.

Note: Whitney duets with her mom in this video, and it shows you where she got her talent from.

Star Spangled Banner

Whitney was at the top of her game in 1991 when she performed the National Anthem at the Super Bowl. America was embroiled in the first Gulf War, and her note-perfect rendition (okay, she was lip-synching, but who cares) was a fitting and memorable tribute to the men and women in uniform.

Whitney said of her performance: "If you were there, you could feel the intensity. You know, we were in the Gulf War at the time. It was an intense time for a country. A lot of our daughters and sons were overseas fighting. I could see, in the stadium, I could see the fear, the hope, the intensity, the prayers going up, you know, and I just felt like this is the moment. And it was hope, we needed hope, you know, to bring our babies home and that's what it was about for me, that what I felt when I sang that song, and the overwhelming love coming out of the stands was incredible."

"I Will Always Love You"

Well, you knew this would be on here, didn’t you? One of Whitney’s many talents was to take lesser known songs by other artists and make huge hits out of them. Dolly Parton’s "I Will Always Love You" was not only the best example of this, but the defining song of an amazing career. It won every single major award it was nominated for including two Grammys, and was the first record ever to sell one million copies in the first week of its release, and set a (since broken) record of 14 weeks at #1.

Waiting to Exhale Trailer

While Whitney basically played a version of herself in The Bodyguard, three years later she took on a more difficult role, and stood her ground among acting talent like Angela Bassett and Gregory Hines, in 1995’s Waiting to Exhale. She was nominated for an Image Award for her performance, and her theme song "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" was nominated for four Grammys.

Crack is Whack

While Whitney continued to put out successful albums, her behavior became more erratic and worrying. By the time she sat down for an interview with Diane Sawyer in 2002, rumors were swirling about her drug and alcohol use. She tried to reassure the public that there was no truth to the accusations, but her pronouncement that “crack is whack” just served to highlight her problems.

Sparkle Interview

Whitney did eventually enter rehab and embarked on the ups and unfortunately the downs that are so often a part of recovery. Recently though, it did appear that maybe her life was turning back around for the better. In this Entertainment Tonight interview from just three months ago, she seems happy and healthy while discussing her return to the big screen in a remake of Sparkle. Despite its camp-sounding title, the movie addresses young stars struggling with addiction. Reports indicate the movie will be released later this year as originally planned.

Last Performance

Just two nights before she died Whitney attended a pre-Grammy party where she took the stage for an impromptu performance. She was obviously not well, but the vocal talent that defined her still shone through.

"I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)"

Hopefully Whitney will be remembered for her voice and her string of record breaking hits rather than her tumultuous life. Smack dab in the middle of her run of seven consecutive number ones was an upbeat dance song that proved she could do more than ballads. Let’s remember her like this, with her crazy 80s hair, high energy, and, as always, her amazing voice.

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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]