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The Late Movies: Happy Birthday Liberace, Jonathan Richman, Krist Novoselic, Janet Jackson, Richard Page, Robert Fripp, Boyd Tinsley, and "Pet Sounds"

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Today happens to be the birthday of tons of famous musicians. Here's a little roundup of tunes by Liberace, Jonathan Richman, Krist Novoselic, Janet Jackson, Richard Page, Robert Fripp, Boyd Tinsley, and The Beach Boys (whose album "Pet Sounds" was released today in 1966). Other notable musical birthdays today -- unfortunately left out of this wrapup -- include Pervis Jackson of The Spinners, Billy Cobham, Barbara Lee of The Chiffons, Simon Katz of Jamiroquai, and Ralph Tresvant of New Edition. I'm telling you, May 16 is some kind of mega-birthday for musicians. Enjoy:

V?adziu Valentino Liberace - 1919

In this 1978 show, Liberace performs "Blue Danube" in Las Vegas, with the colorful Dancing Waters behind him. Sparkly.

Jonathan Richman - 1951

I saw a YouTube comment that summed Richman up nicely: "Either you love Jonathan Richman or you've never heard of him." My favorite song of his is "Vincent Van Gogh." Here's an early version, performed with The Modern Lovers live in Toronto. The sound quality isn't great, but the dancing and 80s sweater are fantastic. See also: this version from "Not So Much To Be Loved As To Love." I prefer the version on the hard-to-find "Rockin' and Romance."

Krist Novoselic - 1965

Novoselic was Nirvana's bassist, and he wrote ultra-catchy bass lines for songs like "Lounge Act," "Heart-Shaped Box," and my favorite, "Sliver." When I was in high school, this was the go-to bass line you learned when you first got your hands on a bass:

Janet Jackson - 1966

Remember this one? You thought I was going to post "Rhythm Nation," but no, I totally went back-catalogue to "What Have You Done For Me Lately":

Richard Page (Mr. Mister) - 1953

Page was the lead singer and bassist for Mr. Mister. It was a real tossup trying to choose between "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings" to post here. I guess "Broken Wings" is the canonical Mr. Mister song, though, so here goes:

Robert Fripp - 1946

Fripp is best known as the only permanent member of King Crimson, though he did amazing work with David Bowie and Brian Eno (among many, many others). Two highlights: he played the iconic lead guitar line on Bowie's "Heroes" and the guitar solo for Eno's "Baby's On Fire." Here's a solo performance of Fripp's "Soundscapes" -- give it a few minutes to get going:

Boyd Tinsley - 1964

Tinsley is best known as the violinist for Dave Matthews Band, though he's been a musical fixture of Charlottesville, Virginia for decades. In "Ants Marching," the second single from DMB's "Under the Table and Dreaming," Tinsley's violin line forms the primary riff, and he takes frequent opportunities to solo. Check out this live performance from Central Park:

The Beach Boys - "Wouldn't It Be Nice" - 1966

Today also happens to mark the release of The Beach Boys' seminal "Pet Sounds" album in 1966. My favorite cut from that record is "Wouldn't It Be Nice"; here's a video set to outtakes of the recording session, explaining how the complex arrangement came together:

See also: "Wouldn't It Be Nice" used in "Roger & Me" to terrific effect. Amazingly, May 16, 1966 also saw the release of Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde." A good day for music.

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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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