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YouTube / VEVO

11 Epic Rickrolls

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YouTube / VEVO

Rickrolling started in 2007. (If you're not familiar with the practice, here's an article that explains everything.) Here's a collection of the best Rickrolls that we've seen.

1. Oregon Legislature Floor Speeches

In 2011, a bipartisan effort was undertaken in the Oregon legislature to embed lyrics from "Never Gonna Give You Up" in floor speeches. The result was this nerdy video:

Legislators explained that the planning process involved volunteers, so was budget-neutral.

2. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade

In 2008, Rick Astley made an appearance during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, interrupting a performance by characters from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Enjoy:

3. Speaker Pelosi's Cat Cam

In 2009, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi celebrated the launch of the "HouseHub" YouTube channel by presenting "a behind the scenes view of the Speaker's Office in the US Capitol," mainly involving cats. 35 seconds into the video, something unusual happens.

4. The White House on Fiscal Policy

In 2011, the White House responded to a tweet complaining that the @WhiteHouse Twitter feed was boring. This was in the days before Twitter automatically showed embedded media:

5. On the Subway

A cappella group On the Rocks traveled to New York City and decided to share their musical gifts on the A Train. Fellow commuters were not amused. (Skip ahead to 1:00 for the actual performance.)

6. The BarackRoll

On August 9, 2008, YouTube maestro Hugh Atkin cut together clips of then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama speaking the lyrics to "Never Gonna Give You Up" in campaign speeches along with his smooth dance moves, making a somewhat convincing "BarackRoll" video.

7. YouTube's 2008 April Fools' Day Prank

On April 1, 2008, YouTube itself got in on the game by changing every video link on its homepage into a Rickroll. Good luck clicking on "Evolution of Dance" that day; you were in for a Rickroll no matter what.

8. The New York Mets

The Mets held an online poll to select a song for their 8th-inning singalong, and unfortunately for them, left a slot for voters to write in an alternate choice. So online Rickrollers voted in huge numbers, filling in "Never Gonna Give You Up," which ultimately won. When the song played, most people booed, though you can hear in this video at least a few people giving a shot at singing along:

9. EWU Basketball

Multiple Eastern Washington University (EWU) women's basketball games experienced pregame Rickrolls in March 2008. A Rick Astley impersonator lip-synched as audience members either danced or ignored the whole thing. The prank was covered by the New York Times. Here's video:

10. Mario PaintRoll

Although not a prank, this deserves inclusion simply for the effort involved. Mario Paint was a Nintendo game that allowed the user to compose songs using various Nintendo icons on a music staff. Here's "Never Gonna Give You Up" arranged for Mario Paint:

11. ThinkGeek Betamax to HD-DVD Converter

On April 1, 2008, online retailer ThinkGeek advertised a stunningly useless product: a Betamax to HD-DVD Converter, complete with a jokey product description and a list of technical features including "Uses electricity." They even posted a YouTube video demonstrating the thing:

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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