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PBS.org

"Calypso"

Original image
PBS.org

“Calypso”
Written by John Denver (1975)
Performed by John Denver

The Music

In 1974, John Denver was invited to sail with Jacques Cousteau aboard the famed oceanographer's boat Calypso. Denver said, “The first few moments I had on my own, I was walking around the deck of the ship and in the time it takes to sing it—Aye, Calypso, the places you've been to, the things that you've shown us, the stories you tell—I had the chorus of the song.”

While the chorus came easily, Denver struggled for months to find the verses for the song. One day, in frustration, he gave up and went skiing. After three runs down the mountain, he felt a creative tension building and raced home. In another burst of creativity, the verses poured out in a flood.

Recorded with a full orchestra, “Calypso” is a rousing sea shanty-style ballad with splashes of yodeling and cinematic flourishes. Originally released as a B-side to Denver's single “I'm Sorry,” it soon gained its own momentum on radio and ended up as a #2 hit.

Here's Denver talking about the song, along with a video that incorporates undersea footage from Cousteau:

The History

Built in 1941, the vessel that became Calypso was originally called BYMS-26, a wooden-hulled minesweeper for the British Royal Navy. Launched in 1942, she saw active duty in the Mediterranean Sea through World War II, before being struck from the Naval Register in 1947.

After the war, she was renamed Calypso, for a sea nymph from Homer's Odyssey. For the next three years, she ferried tourists and locals between Malta and the island of Gozo. In 1950, Calypso was purchased by an Irish millionaire named Thomas Guinness, who in turn leased it to Jacques Cousteau for the symbolic fee of one franc a year. Guinness wanted to see the boat used for oceanographic research and conservation. And as a condition of the deal, he asked that Cousteau never reveal his identity. It wasn't until after Cousteau's death in 1997 that Guinness's name came out.

Diver Down

While the boat that became Calypso had been sweeping for mines during the war, lifelong ocean lover and former French navy man Jacques-Yves Cousteau was forging his career as the century's most renowned mariner. In 1943, he won the Congress of Documentary Film top prize for the first French underwater film,18 Meters Deep. The same year, he shot another movie, Shipwrecks, in which he helped design and test the first Aqua-Lung, the prototype of the SCUBA tank (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) that became the standard for all deep sea divers. Cousteau also went on to develop such innovations as the underwater scooter, the diving saucer, and “Conshelf,” an underwater research base. For the duration of WWII, he worked with the French Navy both as an undercover agent assembling commando missions against the Axis forces and helping to rescue sunken vessels.

The Undersea World

In 1950, after leasing the Calypso from Guinness, Cousteau refitted the boat as a mobile laboratory and it became the home for his deep sea adventures over the next thirty years.

While he captured the imagination of millions with his books, short films, an Academy award-winning documentary and a classic TV series (which aired from 1966 to 1976), Cousteau's achievements ran even deeper. He played a big part in stopping the dumping of radioactive waste in the ocean, helped refine ideas about porpoises and their echolocation sonar abilities, and was one of the first to explore the waters of Antarctica. But his most lasting contribution was to reveal the splendor of the undersea world with a wide-eyed wonder, while raising awareness of ocean ecology and conservation. Long before it was a fashionable cause, Cousteau was enlightening us about the interconnectivity of species and environmental issues.

In 1996, Calypso was accidentally rammed by a barge and sunk in the port of Singapore. The boat was raised and towed to Marseille, France. After Cousteau's death in 1997, there were years of legal battles over the boat's ownership between his family and members of the Guinness family.

Finally, in 2010, a new Calypso was relaunched by the Cousteau Society as a touring educational exhibition.

View all Music History posts here.

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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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