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The Night The Beatles Rocked Shea Stadium

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Though the Fab Four found it hard to remember the second occasion, the Beatles actually played Shea Stadium twice. When he was later asked about the "second Shea Stadium concert," George Harrison replied, "Did we play Shea twice?" Ringo Starr was asked the same question and gave the same exact response, "Did we play Shea twice?"


This is rather understandable, with the Beatles' extraordinarily eventful career, the excessive drugs taken, and the natural flaws of memory. Another word would probably also apply: anti-climactic. The first Beatles concert is often considered an apogee, some kind of peak in the unforgettable phenomena we know as "Beatlemania." After their monumental first Shea concert, the second one just over a year later was surely anti-climactic -- the tickets didn't even sell out. (The poster at left is for the less-memorable second concert at Shea Stadium.)


The first Beatles concert at Shea Stadium was on August 15, 1965. Any Beatles fan worth his or her salt knows this one as "The Shea Stadium Concert."

A Full House

Although the Beatles had sold out countless theaters, local auditoriums, and dance halls, no rock group had ever played a concert at an actual sports stadium before. The crowd was at capacity, an eye-popping 55,600 fans, mostly screaming, crying, and even fainting women and teenage girls.

Interestingly, among the screaming, worshiping fans were two future Beatle wives. Both Linda Eastman and Barbara Bach (the future wives of Paul and Ringo, respectively) were sitting amongst the other adoring fans. (One has to wonder what was going through those girls' minds at the time.)

The boys were dramatically escorted to the roof of the World's Fair in a whirling helicopter. According to George, en route to the rooftop, the pilot was zipping and whizzing them wildly over the Big Apple, pointing out the various sights, as the Beatles sat in slight terror at the aerial acrobatics. The boys were then driven to the concert in a Wells-Fargo Bank van.

After they were deposited at the stadium, each of the Beatles was given his own little Wells-Fargo badge. (In the film of the concert, you can spot each Beatle proudly wearing his Wells-Fargo badge pinned to his jacket.)

Once the previous acts finished their obligatory, thankless performances, the Beatles walked out onto the field like four deities. The noise was deafening -- in the video footage, some of the security people can be seen putting their hands over their ears or sticking their fingers in their ears to block out the noise. Thousands of bright camera flashbulbs greeted the Beatles as they entered, making the field look like a wild electronics laboratory.

Video of the opening of the concert from YouTube user saltaeb99

The boys nervously picked up their guitars and Ringo climbed aboard his drum kit. They stood in the middle of Shea Stadium, small and distant figures, which probably added to the adoration and surrealism of the moment.

It was a typically brief Beatles concert, just 12 songs played in about 30 minutes. The Beatles used their "new" 100-volt amps, rather like using a portable hand mic to get an interview with King Kong, and throughout the deafening roar, they couldn't hear a note any of them played (or sang).

INTERVIEWER: "Does it bother you that you can't hear what you sing during a concert?"

JOHN LENNON: "No, we don't mind. We've got the records at home."

Because of the excessive noise and the need to somehow keep some kind of a beat, Ringo later confessed to watching the swinging rear ends of his three bandmates to give him some semblance of rhythm.

John opened with his version of "Twist and Shout," a usual routine, but Paul, George, and Ringo all noticed something slightly different about John. According to George, John Lennon "cracked up" that night. The surrealism of the event caught Lennon's fancy and, always the craziest of the Fab Four, John just "lost it."

In the video footage, John can be seen cackling and breaking up with mad glee several times, as the other boys look over the crowd, and each other, with slight disbelief. At one point, John holds his arms out-stretched and starts chanting, in a Peter Sellers-like voice, up at some imaginary heavenly presence above him. At another point, as Paul talks to the crowd, John does his usual spastic clawed hands impression and stomps his feet. (But that was a regular part of John's routine in those pre-politically correct times.)

During the closing number, as Paul sang "I'm Down," John went over to play the electric organ. Lennon started playing the organ with his elbow and laughing devilishly. The normally staid and conventional Paul is seen doing a full 360-degree spin, in seemingly pure exhilaration. Even the usually stone-faced George laughed out loud at John's antics.

In between the "Twist and Shout" and "I'm Down" bookends, George and Ringo each performed their obligatory solo turns. John and Paul rotated and sang lead in the other ten songs.

Thus, the band played on.

And then, the most amazing 30-minutes of condensed music ended in a flash, and the Fab Four tromped off the field, exhausted.

The concert pulled in a then-record gross of $304,000, of which the Beatles would receive half. It was noted, at the time, as the biggest grossing event "in the history of show business." (Tickets sold for the ridiculous prices of $4.50, $5.00, and $5.75.)

Many years later, John Lennon ran into Sid Bernstein, the producer of the Shea Stadium concert. As they happily reminisced about the Shea concert, John looked at Sid with a twinkle in his eye and said, "We reached the top of the mountain, Sid."


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.


Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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