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The Criminal Lives of 5 Classical Musicians

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Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day was once kicked off an airplane for wearing sagging pants, which is pretty much everything you need to know about musicians of the last 30 years. As with everything else, if you want to see the right way to stick it to the man, you’ve got to look at the greats of classical music. Here are five classical composers with criminal histories.

1. Ludwig van Beethoven

Charge: Vagrancy

Beethoven tended to get so engrossed in his work that things like housekeeping, grooming, and laundry fell by the wayside. While out for a walk one day in 1820, he found himself lost on the streets of Weiner Neustadt, and began peering in windows to get his bearings. Because he looked like a bum, a policeman picked him up for vagrancy.

“I am Beethoven!” he told the Five-O.

Sure you are, came the response.

Beethoven cooled his heels in the lockup until Herr Herzog, the city’s musical director, could spring him. For the record, Beethoven didn’t take his incarceration well. A constable reportedly went to the police commissioner for help in dealing with the enraged composer. “Herr Commissioner,” he said, “We have arrested a man who gives us no rest, and yells all the time that he is Beethoven.” (Emphasis mine.)

Given enough time, he probably would have started a prison riot.

2. Igor Stravinsky

Charge: Defaming the National Anthem

In 1944, Igor Stravinsky left the doughnut commandos in Boston outraged for his arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner. (Nobody should have been surprised; when he composed “The Rite” his stated purpose was to “send them all to hell”—them being European civilization itself.) How outraged were the cops? They showed up the next day “to make sure he didn’t play it again.”

If you can find a way to stir up the police for a major minor seventh chord, you are not a man to be trifled with.

3. Franz Schubert

Charge: Revolutionary activity

Heads of state weren’t exactly relaxed in 1820. As Johann Senn wrote at the time, “The German struggles for liberation, from 1813 to 1815, had left in their wake a significant spiritual upheaval in Austria too.” Likewise in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars and the earlier French Revolution, students with crazy ideas about liberty were not to be trusted. So when Austrian secret police observed Franz Schubert and his four droogs “inveighing against [officials] with insulting and opprobrious language,” the young artists were rounded up and arrested. Senn, one of the five, spent 14 months in prison. It’s likely that Schubert was saved by his burgeoning reputation as a great composer, though he was severely reprimanded, and in a society where the police had to approve everything from publication to marriage, a police record could cause no end of troubles.

4. Richard Wagner

Charge: Revolutionary activity

While living in Dresden, composer Richard Wagner spent six years writing operas and throwing in with leftist radicals. In the pages of Volksblätter, he incited revolution, and during the May Uprising of 1849 made hand grenades and stood watch for students at the barricades. (If there ever were a time when songs from Les Misèrables might spontaneously occur, this was it.)

When the uprising failed, Wagner found himself wanted by the government, and absconded to Zurich where he lived as a fugitive. (Again, Les Misèrables.) The charges kept him out of Germany until 1862.

5. Johann Sebastian Bach

Charge: “Too stubbornly forcing the issue of his dismissal.”

In 1708, Johann Sebastian Bach took a job as a chamber musician in the Court of the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar. Within five years, he was head of the chamber orchestra and eyeing the position of capellmeister, or director of music. He was pretty much doing the job for the incumbent, who was decrepit and moribund, and ascending to the position itself was a formality awaiting only the capellmeister’s death. Imagine his frustration when the job went to the capellmeister’s idiot son.

The rival Court of Anhalt-Cöthen saw what a terrible decision this was, and asked Bach to join them and serve as its own capellmeister. Bach said yes, and the Duke of Sachsen-Weimar retaliated by having Bach thrown in jail for 30 days, which is a sentence 30 times longer than Johnny Cash ever served, no matter what he’d have you believe.

While in the gray bar hotel, Bach did what any self-respecting master musician would do: he wrote chorale preludes for organ, later published as part of Orgelbüchlein, his first organ masterwork.

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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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