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The Late Movies: The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait" Turns 25

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The Replacements' classic album Pleased to Meet Me turned 25 this week. It debuted on July 7, 1987, and featured two of my favorite songs of all time: "Can't Hardly Wait" and "Alex Chilton." The rest of the album isn't bad either.

The song "Can't Hardly Wait" has stuck with me all these years, partly because of its ultra-sweet sound, largely attributable to its lovely guitar line performed by Big Star's Alex Chilton (in case you couldn't tell, Chilton was a big influence on Replacements singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg). For your listening enjoyment, here are some of my favorite versions of the tune. And for the record, this song has basically nothing in common with the 1998 movie of the same name.

The Blistering Tim Version

"Can't Hardly Wait" was first recorded for the 1985 album Tim, but didn't make the cut. This early version includes Bob Stinson on (loud, distorted) guitar before his ouster from the band, and it rocks the hell out of the version that made it onto Pleased to Meet Me. On the other hand, the lyrics are far darker, and the song is very clearly about suicide. Here's a snippet of the lyrics:

I'll be sad in Heaven
If I don't find a hole in the gate
Climb on to the top of this scummy water tower screaming:
I can't hardly wait
I can't wait [repeats]...
'til it's over.

There's also an early demo of this version, but it's very rough around the edges.

The Sweet Album Version

On this poppy version, Alex Chilton's sweet guitar forms the base of the groove, along with prominent horns and strings. The lyrics have been changed so the song is far less specific -- it now seems to me to be about the weariness of touring.

Also of interest: an alternate version of this recording, with cheesy keyboards in place of horns and strings.

Paul Westerberg Live Version

Paul Westerberg and band live in New York City in 1996. Note the crowd screaming along for the "hurry up!" lines. The minute-long break in the middle is utterly awesome -- like a built-in encore within the song itself. If you like this version, you might also appreciate this weird supercut of Westerberg playing the song solo.

Early Live Version

From the late Tim era, this live recording is from 1986 at Maxwell's in New Jersey. Note how the lyrics are still in flux.

Justin Townes Earle Cover

Justin Townes Earle does a fantastic acoustic cover version of "Can't Hardly Wait." Here he is live in Nashville, performing the song with his band. The sound quality isn't great, but the performance is. Also very notable: his album version.

Bonus Song: "Alex Chilton"

Here's the other song from the Pleased to Meet Me album that I can't stop singing. "Alex Chilton" had one of a string of music videos for Replacements songs that gave the finger to the whole notion of doing a music video. (The most famous of these is of course "Bastards of Young.") Also interesting: a demo version of "Alex Chilton" performed live in the studio.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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