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12 Star-Studded Benefits Before the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief

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Tonight's 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief is the latest in a long tradition of performers coming together to raise spirits and money for a charitable cause. See how many of these previous fund-raising festivals you remember.

1. The Concert for Bangladesh

A nine month long war in East Pakistan ended in 1971 with the formation of the independent state of Bangladesh. Partly due to the war, relief efforts in the wake of the deadly Bhola Cyclone that claimed at least 500,000 lives in November 1970 in that area were sorely lacking. Former Beatle George Harrison stepped up to the plate and organized what is widely considered to be the first large-scale benefit concert, held in two sessions at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. The Concert for Bangladesh featured such notable musicians as Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Bob Dylan playing together as a “supergroup.” Besides the actual concert ticket sales, proceeds from the live album and companion film combined to raise $12 million (in 1970s dollars) for the Bangladesh refugee relief effort.

2. One-to-One Concert

In 1972 a rookie reporter for WABC-TV named Geraldo Rivera won a Peabody Award for his exposé on the neglect and abuse of mentally retarded (as they were called at that time) residents at Staten Island’s Willowbrook State School. John Lennon saw the special and contacted Rivera with an offer to perform at a benefit concert if Geraldo would help to organize it. The end result was the One-to-One charity, which raised funds to sponsor smaller, residential group homes for the mentally disabled, and organized volunteers who would donate their time to work one-on-one with such individuals, teaching them life skills and taking them to recreational outings. Prior to the first of two concerts at Madison Square Garden in August 1972, Rivera remarked to John Lennon that he feared the tickets wouldn’t sell out; John’s response was to purchase $60,000 worth of tickets and give them away to volunteers who’d pledged to work “one-to-one” with the residents of Willowbrook, as well as waiving his performance fee. The bill also included Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and Sha-Na-Na.

3. Concert for Kampuchea

Over the course of four days in late December 1979, Paul McCartney presented, with the assistance of then-Secretary General of the U.N. Kurt Waldheim, a series of concerts at London’s Hammersmith-Odeon to raise funds for the citizens of the war-torn nation of Cambodia/Kampuchea. The concerts were a showcase for the Old Guard meeting the New, with such stalwarts as The Who, Queen and members of Led Zeppelin alternating stage time with Elvis Costello, the Pretenders and the Clash. The encore numbers, performed by an all-star band nicknamed “Rockestra” featured a “Who’s Who” line-up that included Robert Plant, Gary Brooker, Pete Townsend, James Honeyman-Scott, Ronnie Lane, John Paul Jones and Dave Edmunds, to name but a few.

4. No Nukes

Shortly after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility in March 1979, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Graham Nash formed Musicians United for Safe Energy. In September of that year, MUSE hosted five nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden to raise awareness of the possible dangers of nuclear energy. Carly Simon, James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, Chaka Khan, Tom Petty, and Bruce Springsteen were among the performers (poor Chaka Khan thought the audience was booing her when they began chanting for “Bruuuuce!”). Between the concerts and a companion album and film, only about $1.5 million was raised, but the good news is that thus far the giant mutant sponges that Graham Nash warned us about haven’t inherited the Earth.

5. ARMS

In the late 1970s, bassist Ronnie Lane, a founding member of the Small Faces and later the Faces, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease which his mother and brother also suffered from (despite a doctor’s previous assurances that the illness was not hereditary). The rock community rallied around their stricken brother, and Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis was born. On September 23, 1983, a charity concert was held at London’s Royal Albert Hall with such industry giants as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Bill Wyman, Joe Cocker, Charlie Watts, Ron Wood, and Steve Winwood sharing the stage for an audience that included Prince Charles and Princess Diana. The show was so well-received that a mini-U.S. tour of nine concerts was subsequently arranged. Lane died of MS-related pneumonia 21 years after his initial diagnosis.

6. Music for UNICEF

On January 1, 1979, United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim signed a proclamation declaring 1979 to be the International Year of the Child. Robert Stigwood and David Frost gathered some of the biggest names in pop music at the time (including Donna Summer, Olivia Newton-John, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Andy Gibb) to perform a benefit concert to raise money for worldwide hunger programs. Billed as “A Gift of Song,” the event was held on January 9, 1979, at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Most of the acts waived their performance fees and also donated the royalties from one of their songs to the cause. Rod Stewart was definitely live (and on fire) as he asked the musical question “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

7. Live Aid

The July 13, 1985, benefit to raise funds for the famine victims in Ethiopia was the first such event to be held on a massive, global scale. Thanks to then-cutting edge satellite hook-ups, the concerts (featuring everyone from David Bowie to Elton John to Phil Collins to Run-DMC to Duran Duran) in London and Philadelphia were broadcast live to over a billion people in 150 different nations. There were technical difficulties aplenty along the way – Paul McCartney’s microphone was silent during the first few bars of “Let It Be,” several artists hit sour notes heard ‘round the world (notice how Madonna lowered many lines of “Into the Groove” an octave during that pre-AutoTune era) and The Who’s TV feed cut out with uncanny timing just as Roger Daltry sang “Why don’t y’all f-f-fade away…”. But Live Aid was still a major milestone with a roster of names never likely to be seen on the same stage at one time again, and it did raise millions of dollars for its intended cause. Of course, at the end of the day it was Queen (as confirmed by a poll of 60 fellow artists, journalists and industry execs) who stole the show. The band had done their homework and had rented a London theater a week prior to Live Aid in order to rehearse and tighten up their 20-minute “greatest hits” slot, and it paid off—watch as Freddie Mercury easily engages a crowd of 72,000 fans who’ve been sitting in the hot summer heat for six hours.

8. Farm Aid

While onstage at Live Aid in Philadelphia, Bob Dylan tossed off a remark about how nice it would be if some of the money raised that day could benefit the American farmers who were in danger of losing their land due to mortgage debt. Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp were inspired by Dylan’s comment and organized a benefit concert held in September 1985 at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign campus. A variety of rock and country artists appeared in front of 80,000 fans and just over $9 million was raised for America’s family farmers. Farm Aid has evolved into an ongoing annual event and the resulting funds are used to provide food, financial, legal and medical assistance to farmers who have lost their homes and crops to natural disasters.

9. Stars 4 SARS

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was first reported in a Toronto woman who’d recently returned from a trip to Hong Kong in February 2003. Within two months, almost 300 other people in the Greater Toronto Area were infected and hospitalized. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued an advisory that limited travel to Toronto, and the area’s economy—which depended heavily on tourism—took a huge hit. The Rolling Stones, who felt a certain kinship with the city (they often rehearsed there prior to touring, Keith Richards was arrested for heroin there, and Ron Wood had famously canoodled with Margaret Trudeau), organized a massive benefit concert with the aim of bringing people back to the city after the WHO ban was lifted. Almost half a million people attended what was the largest ticketed event in Canadian history in order to see AC/DC, Rush, the Guess Who, Sass Jordan and others. Sadly, Justin Timberlake was booed and pelted with debris during his set by fans who were waiting for the harder rock of the Stones and AC/DC. Mick Jagger responded by inviting Timberlake onstage to duet with him on the Stones classic “Miss You."

10. The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball

This September 9, 1981, concert held at London’s Drury Lane Theatre was the fourth in an annual series staged to raise money for Amnesty International. However, most of the previous shows had focused on comedy acts (the Monty Python crew was always one of the main attractions, for example) rather than music. The Other Ball was the first to focus primarily on rock music and was the genesis for many musicians to get involved in charity fundraising and human rights. Sting, Phil Collins, Midge Ure, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clapton all performed, as did a young Bob Geldof. Interestingly enough, when concert organizer Martin Lewis first contacted Geldof about appearing at the show, the Boomtown Rats frontman replied, “'Oh, you f***ing hippies, with your f***ing do-gooding ways ... Do you think you can save the world with a f***ing concert?” Obviously the event was eye-opening enough for Sir Bob to quickly change his tune regarding charity concerts.

11. America: A Tribute to Heroes

Actor George Clooney helped to assemble this September 21, 2001, all-star benefit that raised money for the victims (and their families) of the 9/11 attacks. Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, U2, Alicia Keys, the Goo Goo Dolls, and Sheryl Crow were just a few of the performers who appeared either in the New York, Los Angeles or London studio in a the telethon-style show that was simulcast on 35 cable and network stations in the U.S. and Canada commercial-free. A variety of actors also made appeals on-camera and worked the telephone banks, and just over $200 million was raised for the United Way’s September 11 Fund.

12. 46664

On November 29, 2003, Nelson Mandela (former prisoner number 46664) hosted a charity all-star concert to raise awareness of the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Held at Cape Town’s Green Point Stadium, the show featured a variety of popular African artists as well as some more internationally famous names, like Beyoncé Knowles, Peter Gabriel, Eurhythmics, Robert Plant, and the Corrs.

For 12-12-12, we’ll be posting twenty-four '12 lists' throughout the day. Check back 12 minutes after every hour for the latest installment, or see them all here.

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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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