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11 Unexpected Musical Collaborations

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When two musically disparate acts collaborate, the end results can be ... interesting. 

1. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Phil Collins: “Home”

Bone Thugs N Harmony Feat. Phil Collins Home by Robinho68

While the song “Home” from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s fifth studio album, Thug World Order, failed to chart on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 2003, the rappers’ collaboration with British singer/songwriter Phil Collins gained commercial success in the United Kingdom. The Cleveland-based rappers used a sample from Phil Collins’ 1985 hit song “Take Me Home” as the foundation for “Home,” and would later make Collins an honorary member of their rap collective, even giving the 62-year-old a new moniker: “Chrome Bone.”

2. Weezer and Lil Wayne: “Can’t Stop Partying”

The song “Can’t Stop Partying” was featured on Rivers Cuomo’s collection of demo songs, Alone II: The Home Records of Rivers Cuomo, released in 2008. In 2009, the 43-year-old rock star released a full version on Weezer’s seventh album Raditude. Co-written and produced by Jermaine Dupri, the catchy pop song featured a rap verse from Lil Wayne. The line “OK b**** it’s Weezer and it’s Weezy” perfectly sums up this strange musical collaboration.

3. Lou Reed and Metallica: LuLu

Lulu, the last full-length record from Lou Reed, was a collaboration between the singer/songwriter and heavy metal giants Metallica, released in 2011. The unlikely pairing stemmed from playing together during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 25th Anniversary Concert a few years earlier. Lulu is a concept album that features heavy instrumentals from Metallica and mostly spoken word compositions from Reed that were loosely based on two plays from German playwright Frank Wedekind. While the collaboration record received mostly negative reviews from critics, Lulu debuted in the #36 spot on the U.S. Billboard 200.

4. The Jonas Brothers and Common: “Don’t Charge Me for the Crime”

Released on the Jonas Brothers' fourth and final record, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, the song “Don’t Charge Me for the Crime” featured their first real rap collaboration (the trio's bodyguard contributing a verse to "Burnin' Up" doesn't count) with rapper Common. Tom Brelhan at Pitchfork said the collaboration was "the weirdest teen-idol/credible-rapper team up since at least Blake Lewis/Lupe Fiasco. ... The way the song is structured, it actually sounds like a story about Common and the Jonas Brothers teaming up to rob a bank, which is probably the funniest image I've had in my head all day."

5. Public Enemy and Anthrax: “Bring the Noise”

In 1991, Public Enemy re-recorded their hit song “Bring the Noise” in a collaboration with Thrash Metal band Anthrax in a way to bridge the gap between the Rap and Heavy Metal music genres. The song was featured on Public Enemy’s fourth record Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black, and it also appeared on Anthrax’s compilation record Attack of the Killer B’s. The collaboration spawned a joint tour that featured the unlikely bands, and each show ended with Public Enemy and Anthrax on stage performing the song.

“Bring the Noise” would go on to inspire the Rap Metal genre and would influence bands such as Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park.

6. Jack White and Alicia Keys: “Another Way To Die”

The song “Another Way to Die” is a duet featuring Garage Rock singer/songwriter Jack White and R&B superstar Alicia Keys. Written for Quantum of Solace in 2008, the song was the first duet released for a James Bond film. While the song received a mixed critical response when compared to other songs from James Bond movies (which include Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die,” and Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice”), “Another Way to Die” peaked at #9 on the U.K. Singles Chart and was Alicia Keys' first hit song in various countries throughout Europe.

7. Kanye West and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver): “Lost in the World”

In 2010, Kanye West released the song “Lost in the World” from his record My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The song featured Indie Folk artist Justin Vernon as well as a sample from his band Bon Iver’s song “Woods” from their 2009 Blood Bank EP. While the unlikely pairing stemmed from West’s sampling Bon Iver’s song, Vernon ended up producing 10 tracks for West’s fifth studio album. Vernon also worked with West on his 2013 album Yeezus.

8. Nelly and Tim McGraw: “Over and Over”

In 2004, rapper Nelly released the song “Over and Over” for his fourth album, Suit. The song featured country music superstar Tim McGraw and centered on the artists coming to terms with a nasty breakup. The song was a certified Platinum hit in 2004, and peaked at the #3 spot on the Billboard Top 100. The music video for “Over and Over” featured Nelly and McGraw in split screen as the pair went through their individual days performing the same errands on their way to different luxury private jets.

9. Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith: “Walk this Way”

The song “Walk this Way” was a big hit for Aerosmith in 1975. But by the time the '80s rolled around, the band had lost the favor of young listeners, as new music genres such as Glam Metal and Pop Music swept music charts. Enter Run-D.M.C. In 1986, the rap trio covered “Walk this Way” as a hip-hop re-imagining with the help of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Produced by hip-hop icons Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, “Walk this Way” peaked at the #4 spot on the Billboard Top 100 and was the first hip-hop song to crack the Top 5. Run D.M.C’s “Walk this Way” popularized hip-hop in the United States and revived Aerosmith’s career.

10. Brad Paisley and L.L. Cool J: “Accidental Racist”

Appearing on Brad Paisley’s 2013 album Wheelhouse, the song “Accidental Racist” featured hip-hop recording artist LL Cool J. The song examined the state of racism in the United States and was a call to reappropriate the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage. The result was one of the most controversial songs of 2013.

11. Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson: “Whatzupwitu”

In 1993, Eddie Murphy released the song “Whatzupwitu” featuring the King of Pop, who decided to collaborate with the actor-turned-recording-artist because he felt the song had a positive message. While the song saw moderate success on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, peaking at #74, its music video is considered one of the worst of all time. It wasn't the first time the duo collaborated: Murphy appeared in Jackson’s music video for “Remember the Time" in 1992.

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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]