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7 Songs for Inauguration Day and Other State Ceremonies

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Getty Images

Every four years, the United States of America continues the Great Experiment and inaugurates a president. Music plays an important part in the occasion and festivities. To that end, here are some of the songs you’ll hear on Inauguration Day and other state ceremonies.

1. "Ruffles and Flourishes"

You’ll recognize “Ruffles and Flourishes” as the fanfare performed immediately before “Hail to the Chief.” The drums play the ruffles; the bugles play the flourishes. The fanfare was chosen to precede the presidential anthem while William McKinley was in office. There’s a hierarchy of importance to how many repetitions of ruffles and flourishes are played at an event. The president always gets four. Ambassadors returning from abroad on unofficial business get three, as do lieutenant generals. Major generals get two, and brigadier generals get one lowly ruffle and flourish. (Consuls general get none, making them the ninjas of the State Department.)

2 & 3. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and "Hands Across the Sea"

During formal ceremonies at which civilian officials of the Department of Defense are present, the band plays ruffles and flourishes followed by the final 32 bars of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

If equivalent defense officials from foreign governments are present, the band plays “Hands Across the Sea.” John Philip Sousa composed both songs.

4. "Yankee Doodle"

When foreign leaders are welcomed to the White House, the military and State Department hold a State Arrival Ceremony on the South Lawn. The president is first welcomed with ruffles and flourishes and “Hail to the Chief,” and upon arrival of the foreign dignitary, ruffles and flourishes are played, followed by the appropriate national anthem, followed by “The Star Spangled Banner.” Heads of state (e.g. the Queen) receive a 21-gun salute by the 3rd Infantry Regiment; heads of government (e.g. the prime minister) receive a 19-gun salute.

Following a review of the honor guard by the president and his guest, the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, dressed in the parade uniform of the Continental Army, marches across the South Lawn and performs "Yankee Doodle." (N.B. the uniform is predominantly red, as 18th-century military musicians wore the reverse color of the rank-and-file. The Continental Army wore blue with red accents, therefore the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps wears red with blue. The whole reason for this is, because before the days of radio communication, messages were relayed down the line by drums and bugles. An officer would need to be able to identify the nearest musician in a hurry.)

The only time “Yankee Doodle” is not performed is when the visiting dignitary is from England. Before the Revolutionary War, British military officers would sing “Yankee Doodle” to mock colonial soldiers. (“Doodle” derives from the German dodel, or “fool.”) After the war, the song wasn’t so funny anymore. There’s really no need to rub things in by playing it for the Queen.

5. "Hail, Columbia"

When the vice president is sworn in, he will receive four ruffles and flourishes followed by his office’s official song, “Hail, Columbia.” The song has a storied history, and its performance at inaugurations precedes “The Star Spangled Banner” by more than a century. It was composed for George Washington’s first swearing-in, and was originally titled “The President’s March.” During the 19th century, “Hail, Columbia” was the de facto national anthem, giving way to “The Star Spangled Banner” in 1931.

The chorus to “Hail, Columbia” begins:

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

6. "The Star Spangled Banner"

“The Star Spangled Banner” was adopted by Congress as the national anthem in 1931, and signed into law by Herbert Hoover. Like “Hail to the Chief,” the song started out as a poem—this one famously written by Francis Scott Key, who was inspired following the Battle of Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812. (The name of the poem was, appropriately, The Defense of Ft. McHenry.) The “rockets’ red glare” was provided by British ships bombarding the fort, which withstood an attack of Congreve rockets and somewhere around 1800 cannonballs.

Key set his lyrics to the official song of the Anacreontic Society, which was an 18th-century musicians’ club in Britain.

7. "Hail to the Chief"

The presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief” was inspired by the poem The Lady of the Lake, by Sir Walter Scott, with its title taken from the second canto:

Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!
Honored and blessed be the ever-green Pine!
Long may the tree, in his banner that glances,
Flourish, the shelter and grace of our line!

The poem was later adopted into a play, and composer James Sanderson set the verses to music, published under the title “March and Chorus in the Dramatic Romance of the Lady of the Lake.” Following a performance of the song in 1815 to honor the late George Washington’s birthday, the public began a slow association between “Hail to the Chief” and the president of the United States. Its first performance at an inauguration was in 1837, for Martin Van Buren. It wasn’t until Harry Truman was in office that the Department of Defense formally adopted the song to honor the president.

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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
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]