CLOSE
Original image

RIP Davy Jones: Remembering The Monkees

Original image

To quote a song from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd, it’s Hard to Believe. Davy Jones, the cuddly member of the Monkees, the master of the maracas, and the guy with the fanciest footwork, has left us at the age of 66.

Davy Jones, whom every girl in my third grade class crushed on back in 1967, who nicknamed the profile-less Micky Dolenz “Skillet Face” upon first meeting him, who cheerfully reprised his role as Marcia Brady’s prom date in Real Live Brady Bunch stage shows, and whose rabid female fans cheesed Jimi Hendrix off by yelling “Foxy Davy!” during “Foxy Lady” when the guitar legend opened for the Prefab Four, has gone on to that Groovy Crash Pad in the Sky after suffering a heart attack.

Here's Jones showing off his British music hall roots in this clip from the movie Head, plus some memories of the Monkees we originally published in 2008.

In the Beginning...

Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider were aspiring filmmakers who believed that Beatlemania could be somehow translated into a US phenomenon.

Their ultimate inspiration came from the “Can’t Buy Me Love” sequence in the 1964 Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night. They came up with the concept of a sitcom about a pop band in which each episode would include an original song and a fun film “romp,” similar to the one featured in the Beatles’ film.

The pair placed ads in trades like the Hollywood Reporter during the summer of 1965 requesting “folk & roll musicians-singers for acting roles in new TV series” while simultaneously mining the songwriting talents of yet-to-be-discovered future stars such as Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson and John Stewart. Some 400 hopefuls auditioned for the show, and eventually the final four chosen were:

Davy Jones: The Boy Who Would've Been a Jockey

David Jones was born in Manchester, England, and (thanks to his diminutive stature) his father hoped he'd become a jockey. However, a talent scout happened by his school, liked Jones' looks, and asked if he could sing. David was recruited to play the Artful Dodger in a West End production of Oliver! He ended up moving to New York to perform with the Broadway cast of the show, which is how he happened to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show the same night the Beatles made their U.S. television debut. Jones later said, "I saw the girls in the audience going crazy and decided that I wanted a piece of that."

Michael Nesmith: Songwriter to Linda Ronstadt

m nesbitt.pngMichael was four years old when his parents divorced. His mom took a secretarial job at a bank to help make ends meet. She was also something of an artist, and painted the bank windows for various holidays in order to earn extra money. It occurred to her one day while typing and trying to erase an error that a painter simply paints over any mistakes. She started experimenting with white tempera paint to cover up typos and eventually marketed her invention under the name "Liquid Paper." When she passed away in 1980 Michael inherited some $50 million of her white-out fortune. In the meantime, though, young Michael yearned to be a musician and formed a folk band. He was also a burgeoning songwriter, and by the time he was hired as a Monkee, Linda Ronstadt had already recorded a song of his called "Different Drum."

Micky Dolenz: Circus Boy

m dolenz.pngGeorge Michael Dolenz grew up in a show business family. His father had starred in the TV series The Count of Monte Cristo, and his mother worked as an agent. When Micky was 11 years old, he landed the lead in a television series called Circus Boy. As a teen he sang, played guitar and occasionally drummed in various garage bands. But it was actually his knack for impersonations and improv as well as his comedic sense of timing that landed him a role as a Monkee.

Peter Tork: Suggested to the group by Stephen Stills!

m tork.pngAfter Peter Thorkelson graduated from college in Connecticut, he spent much of his time playing folk music in various clubs in New York's Greenwich Village. He eventually moved to the West Coast and got gigs on the L.A. folk circuit. Stephen Stills (later of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, and Nash fame) auditioned for The Monkees and was told that he'd be perfect for the show if only his hairline wasn't already receding and his teeth were in better shape. Rather than being bitter at the rejection, he recommended his good friend and look-alike Peter Tork. Peter had the appropriate "look" and could also play guitar, bass and banjo, so the group was now complete.

John Lennon Praised Them

The show was an immediate hit and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series after its first season. Their success was something of a double-edged sword, however, because the group felt compelled to go out on tour to prove themselves to those critics who claimed the Monkees weren't musicians. But in the record business, it's always a matter of striking while the iron is hot, so the band had to write and record songs in between gigs. And then there was the matter of filming the next season of the series. As John Lennon later said when asked his opinion of The Monkees: "They've got their own scene, and I won't send them down for it. You try a weekly television show and see if you can manage one half as good!"

Neil Diamond's First Hit

If nothing else, the Monkees gave some fledgling songwriters their first national exposure. "I'm a Believer" gave Neil Diamond his first number one hit as a songwriter. They also gave Harry Nilsson (who would later go on to have hits on his own with "Without You" and "Everybody's Talkin'," to name a few) his chart success when they recorded his tune "Cuddly Toy."

Davy Jones Was Not a Believer

One of the Monkees' number one hits was "Daydream Believer," a song Davy Jones hated at first. He felt that it wasn't in his key, and he didn't understand the lyrics. (He was from England and didn't know what a "homecoming queen" was.) It wasn't until after the tune topped the charts that he grudgingly admitted, "Maybe it's not that bad of a song after all."

The Alternate Title of "Alternate Title"

Micky Dolenz composed a tune that he named after a phrase he'd heard on a British TV series called Till Death Us Do Part. When the song was released, however, BBC censors insisted that its name — “Randy Scouse Git” — be replaced with an alternate title, since it was some sort of obscenity in British slang. Dolenz complied by re-naming his song "Alternate Title," and it went all the way to #2 on the British pop charts in 1967.

Please feel free to share your Davy love and favorite Monkees TV moments/songs/whatever at this sad time. It will hopefully make us all feel just a little bit better.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
entertainment
arrow
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES