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Mozart Wrote Dirty Songs, Too

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People love to complain about today’s music. All the lyrics are too bland, repetitive, and racy. So thank goodness we have a canon of treasured composers to fall back on! You know, guys like Mozart. He wrote songs with substance.

1. Leck mich im Arsch (K. 231)

Mozart wrote this six-voice canon in 1782. It was likely a party piece for his friends. The title translates to “Lick me in the ass,” an old German idiom akin to the modern “Kiss my ass.” When Mozart’s publisher received the piece, he was shocked to see such bawdy language and bowdlerized the text to read, “Let us be glad!” (Which, I think, is the complete opposite of what this tune means.)

Leck mich im Arsh, g’schwindi, g’schwindi! Etc.

"Lick me in the ass, quickly, quickly! Etc."

2. Bona Nox (K. 561)

In this four-voice canon in A Major, Mozart recycles some scatological zingers that first appeared in letters he sent his family. (If you haven’t read his letters, take a few minutes and give them a look—they’re doozies.)  

Translation:

[Latin] Good night!
You are quite an ox;
[Italian] Good night,
My dear Lotte;
[French] Good night,
Phooey, phooey;
[English]Good night, good night,
[German] Sh** in your bed and make it burst;
Good night, sleep tight,
And stick your ass to your mouth.

3. Difficile Lectu (K. 559)

This one is full of fun bilingual puns. The lyrics are in Latin, but if you translate it, you’ll realize it doesn’t make much sense. That’s because Mozart wrote the piece for his friend Johann Nepomuk Peyerl, a baritone with a thick Bavarian accent. Mozart knew that when Peyerl would pronounce the Latin “lectu mihi mars,” it would sound like the German, “leck du mich im Arsch,” which means, well, you know. The piece also incessantly repeats the word “jonicu”—that’s because, when said over and over, it sounds like the Italian vulgarism “cujoni.” You, of course, know it better in Spanish: “Cojones.”

Difficile lectu mihi mars et jonicu, jonicu
Difficle, lectu, lectu, lectu mihi mars
Mihi mars lectu lectu difficile lectu lectu
Jonicu jonicu, jonicu, jonicu, jonicu,
Jonicu, jonicu, jonicu, jonicu difficile

So what was up with Wolfgang’s potty mouth? Some believe Mozart had Tourette syndrome, although the diagnosis has been debunked time and time again. It’s more likely that the musical mastermind simply loved crude jokes—which wasn’t unusual for his time, anyway. Scatology was just as popular back then as it is today, although it was especially strong in Germanic culture. After printing the Bible, the next project on Johannes Gutenberg’s to-do list was a laxative timetable called a “Purgation Calendar.” Martin Luther—the same man who redefined Christianity—was brilliantly vulgar. “I resist the devil, and often it is with a fart that I chase him away,” is one of his tamer aphorisms. Goethe once used poop jokes to lash back at a critic. Mozart wasn’t any different. He cribbed most of these ribald lyrics from fashionable phrases that shared wide currency in his day.  

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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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May 23, 2017
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