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ABBA the Museum

11 Museums Devoted to Musicians

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ABBA the Museum

Museums aren’t just staid institutions that chronicle the history of the world, or the development of arts and sciences; there are also plenty of venues that let you learn about your favorite musical acts. Take a look at 11 of our favorite museums devoted to rock groups, classical composers, and more.

1. ABBA the Museum

This museum follows Sweden’s most famous pop group from its early days to its “Dancing Queen” heyday and beyond. There are more glittery costumes and gold records than ABBA had pop hits, but you’ll also find interactive elements, including a disco-inspired dance floor and a red telephone that visitors can answer if it rings (apparently, only four people have the number—we’re betting we can guess who).

2. Graceland Mansion

Courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.

Elvis Presley bought this nearly 14-acre property in Memphis in 1957 (buying price: $100,000), and called Graceland home until his death in 1977; it opened as a museum five years later. Visitors can see the King’s touring costumes, his car collection, and the “Jungle Room,” but not everything is open to the public: the mansion’s entire second floor, including Presley’s bedroom and the bathroom where he died, is completely off-limits.

3. The Beatles Story

Courtesy of Mark McNulty

Even superfans will find out something they didn’t know about the Fab Four by visiting this museum, located in the Beatles’ hometown of Liverpool, England. You’ll find items like Lennon’s glasses; one of George Harrison’s first guitars; a gallery of little-seen photos of the band by Paul Berriff (who rediscovered the collection in his attic in 2010); and a recreation of the Cavern Club, a basement bar where the band performed—and where Beatlemania began.

4. “Chasing Rainbows” at Dollywood

Courtesy of Dollywood

This museum opened on the grounds of Dollywood in 2002. It’s filled with Dolly memorabilia, including stage costumes and outfits from movies like 9 to 5, and a plethora of awards the spunky performer has won throughout the years. Plus, milestone moments in Dolly’s life are documented as they happen: She received an honorary doctorate from the University of Tennessee in 2011, and her cap and gown, as well as the dress she wore to the ceremony, are now on view.

5. Anne Murray Centre

Courtesy of Anne Murray Centre

Canadian singer Anne Murray is so revered in her hometown of Springhill, Nova Scotia—known mostly for coal mining—that a museum devoted to her legacy opened there in 1989. The small institution operates from May to October, and visitors can check out artifacts from Murray’s life, including outfits, gold records and instruments. There’s also a teeny recording studio where superfans can lay down a virtual duet with the songstress.

6. Mozarthaus

Courtesy of Mozarthaus Vienna/David Peters

Vienna’s most famous export (no, not chocolate) is the subject of this museum, located in an apartment that Mozart occupied from 1784 to 1787. (The composer was born in Salzburg, but wrote his most famous works, including The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute, in Vienna.) Much of the museum is about Mozart’s music, but you can also get a glimpse at how he spent his free time—there’s an entire room devoted to games, a particular passion.

7. The Allman Brothers Museum at the Big House

Courtesy the Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House

The members of the Southern rock band used this Macon, Georgia residence as a home base during their earliest years, and it reopened as a museum in 2009. Visitors can explore the sprawling home’s rooms—including ones decorated to look as they did when Duane and Gregg Allman lived there in the early ’70s—and see the band’s old instruments, clothes, photos and more.

8. Ramones Museum & Bar

Courtesy of Luca Volpi via Wikimedia Commons

A museum about New York’s most famous punk rockers is in … Berlin? Yup: Die-hard Ramones fan Flo Hayler opened the venue after his collection of memorabilia grew too large to keep in his apartment. Now, those items—along with T-shirts, photos, band members’ leather jackets, and much more—are on display; the venue also occasionally hosts punk-rock concerts.

9. Bob Marley Museum

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Five years after Bob Marley’s death in 1981, his wife Rita turned their Kingston, Jamaica home into an institution focused on his life and legacy. The house, shaded by palm trees, showcases Marley’s personal artifacts, such as his awards and gold records, and clothes he wore while performing. The museum also holds a weeklong celebration of Marley’s birthday each February.

10. Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and General Store

Courtesy of Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and General Store

This shrine to the country legend is just one of several famous music museums in Nashville—it’s across the street from the Grand Ole Opry House. The institution holds many artifacts from Nelson’s lengthy career, including the guitar he used for his debut at that famed neighbor in 1963. (Some were even purchased during auctions held by the IRS in the early ’90s, when Nelson owed the government upwards of $16 million.)

11. The Kalakuta Republic Museum

Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti’s onetime home in Lagos, Nigeria reopened as a museum celebrating his life and activism in late 2012. Some of the items on view are normal day-to-day pieces—including the performer’s flamboyant clothing and shoes—while others, such as newspaper clippings and Kuti’s writings, honor his legacy as a political firebrand.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]