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14 Charming Quotes About The Smiths by Morrissey

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February 20th marks the 30th anniversary of the self-titled first album by those mighty masters of mope from Manchester, The Smiths. Throughout their brief five-year history, these effusive lads were characterized by the angst-ridden yet playful lyrics of their cheekily outspoken frontman, Morrissey. In honor of their debut, here are some quotes about them from that charming man himself.

1. ON MEETING JOHNNY MARR

“…Johnny first shoved his face in, and he said, “You’ve got a funny voice.” The comment contained an oblique confession, which said: you don’t talk as shockingly bad as I do…I am shaken when I hear Johnny play guitar, because he is quite obviously gifted and almost unnaturally multi-talented. Since he shows an exact perspective on all things, I can’t help but wonder: What is he doing here with me?”

From his autobiography.

2. ON COLLABORATING WITH MARR

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“We both had an astonishingly solid sense of direction, and we very rarely disagreed which was unusual because we were opposites—he was full of excitement for everything and I was … not.”

From a 2012 interview in Mojo Magazine.

3. ON NAMING THE BAND

“The name doesn’t mean anything, it simply serves its purpose. I think it’s very important not to be defined in any one category. Once you’re defined you’re limited and musically that petrifies me.”

From The Smiths’ first magazine interview ever.

4. ON THEIR SELF-TITLED DEBUT ALBUM

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“I look back on the album that became The Smiths and I see nothing at all that had anything to do with me. Although the songs were very strong, the recording of those songs—in my view—failed everyone.”

From his autobiography.

5. ON “THIS CHARMING MAN”

“'This Charming Man’ is about being charming, which very few people are these days. I think it’s nice to instill these words into people’s brains and who knows? It might rub off on a new generation.”

From an October 2012 interview in Mojo Magazine

6. ON THEIR FIRST TELEVISION APPEARANCE

“I am rolled out to face an icy grilling from Henry Kelly—a little, pinched Irish madam who has no time for me and who cuts me off mid-sentence, with neither a ‘thank you’ or a ‘good luck’ as he minces frostily into his next major superstardom moment. Some people are just awful.”

From his autobiography.

7. ON PERFORMING

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“As a very small child I found recorded noise and the solitary singer beneath the spotlight so dramatic and so brave… walking the plank… willingly… It was sink or swim. The very notion of standing there, alone, I found beautiful. It makes you extremely vulnerable, but everything taking place in the hall is down to you. That's an incredible strength, especially for someone who had always felt insignificant and disregarded. Coupled with the fact that you could also be assassinated…”

From a 2010 interview in The Guardian.

8. ON THE RECORD INDUSTRY

“We didn’t ever make money from touring, and we had no idea where our worldwide royalties ended up. In time-honored tradition, we were just two more pop artists thrilled to death with the spinning discs that bore our names. The specifics of finance and the glutonous snakes-and-ladders legalities were deliberately complicated snares that all pop artists are expected to understand immediately. The act of creating music and songs and live presentations are relied upon to sufficiently distract the artist so that labels and lawyers and accountants—so crucial to groups in matters of law—might thrive.”

From his autobiography.

9. ON CELEBRITY

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“I don’t have an exotic life-style. I know that people think if one is vaguely famous then you belong to this celebrity community, but I need hardly say that I have not filled in that application form. Well I did, but it was rejected.”

From a 1991 interview in Spin.

10. ON HIS NAME AND NICKNAME

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"My own name is by now synonymous with ‘miserable’ in the press, so Johnny [Marr] putters with ‘misery’ and playfully arrives at ‘misery mozzery’, which truncates to Moz, and I am classified ever after. I had originally decided to use only my surname because I couldn’t think of anyone else in music that had done so—although, of course, many had been known by just one name, but it hadn’t been their surname. Only classical composers were known by just their surnames, and this suited my mudlark temperament quite nicely.”

From his autobiography.

11. ON THE FIRST SHOW OF THEIR FIRST AMERICAN TOUR

The World's a Mess

“I walk onstage … at the Danceteria, and as I do so, my blindness and bewilderment lead me directly off the lip of the stage, and I crash at the feet of the assembled human spillage. Unaided, I scramble back up and onto the stage, and I limp directly off—past three blank musicians who are unable to cope with such embarrassment … As I walk back out, a shrill female voice from the audience screeches ‘WHAT is WROOOOOOOOONG with you?’ Hello, America.”

From his autobiography.

12. ON HATING IT WHEN FRIENDS BECOME SUCCESSFUL

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"When my old friend Simon Topping [from Manchester band A Certain Ratio] appeared on the cover of the NME, I died a thousand deaths of sorrow and lay down in the woods to die."

From his autobiography.

13. ON WRITING HIT SONGS

“If you really concentrate on the Top 40 there aren’t really many striking individuals so it is rather easy within that block to be semi anarchic.”

From a 1988 interview in Sounds.

14. ON HIS REPUTATION

"Whenever I'd overhear how people found me to be 'a bit much' (which is the gentle way of saying the word 'unbearable'), I understood why. To myself I would say: Well, yes of course I'm a bit much—if I weren't, I would not be lit up by so many lights."

From his autobiography

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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