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Wikimedia Commons

Elvis Presley's Bizarre Album of Stage Banter

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Wikimedia Commons

In 1974, Elvis Presley released Having Fun With Elvis on Stage, an album consisting of over thirty minutes of haphazardly compiled banter from his concerts. It includes no songs and it is completely devoid of context. Save for maybe one brief section, there are no insights into Presley's life. What's included is so incoherent, you don't really get an idea of his stage presence, despite the fact that all the audio comes from his shows.

The album was the brainchild of Elvis's manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Parker created a company called Boxcar to manage Presley's commercial rights (while securing the majority of profits for himself), with an eye to eventually turn it into a full-blown record company. Because of Elvis's deal with RCA, Boxcar could not release a normal Elvis record with music. Instead, Parker had to go around this by selling an album that was just his client speaking. Having Fun With Elvis on Stage was the only LP Boxcar ever put out, and it's roundly considered to be one of the worst albums of all time.

Surely there must be some redeeming qualities to this artifact. It has to at least be fun—it's right there in the title! Colonel Parker wouldn't lie to consumers. Maybe all the album's critics were squares who weren't hep to this avant-garde collage of found and pop art. I listened to Having Fun With Elvis on Stage and broke it into 34 different tracks based on where Colonel Tom seems to have edited in a new clip from a new concert (it's presented as two long tracks with no breaks). By doing this, I hope to determine just how much fun you can have with Elvis, on stage.

1. 0:00-1:18
The album starts off in medias res, with Elvis humming and saying, "Here we go again, man." He continues, “Before the evening is over, I will have made a complete and total fool of myself. And I hope you get a kick out of watching it.” He then growls and says "Whaa whaa whaa" before singing, "Well...well, well well" as if he's about to go into a song. There is no song.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: It's early, so we're having a little bit of fun with Elvis. He seems relaxed, which is nice.

2. 1:19-2:27
The sound quality of the second section drops off considerably, and it seems as if we are magically transported to the end of one of Elvis's concerts. “They don’t like for us to stay on too long," he says, and the audience boos. "Wait a minute! They don't like for us to stay on for more than 55 minutes to an hour...But we don't care what they like!" The crowd goes absolutely bonkers. This is legitimately fun.

With the audience worked into a lather, Elvis goes, "I'd like to sing a little 'Love Me Tender' for you." Instead of singing, he starts squeaking directly into the microphone. I think the joke was supposed to be, "I'd like to sing a little 'Love Me Tender' for you quickly," with the squeaking mimicking a sped-up audio recording, but he forgot to say "quickly." The crowd laughs politely.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: He's a little all over the place here, but we're having fun.

3. 2:28-3:08
Elvis slowly and quietly sings, "You ain't nothing but an...aardvark." He then lists a few more animals, some of which sound made up.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Not too much here, to be honest.

4. 3:09-7:40
Elvis seems to be genuinely shocked by microphone feedback and asks, “What was that?” He then starts negotiating with a woman in the audience about flowers. “What is that honey? An orchid? You want the blue one?” He gives another woman a scarf for her birthday. “Here’s the towel," he says, "Here’s the scarf, here’s the kiss." Crowd goes wild.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Sounds like we're having some fun, yeah.

5. 7:41-8:00
Not much goes on here. The audience is screaming some stuff and Elvis meekly goes, "Mmkay."

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: None.

6. 8:01-11:55
This is a great part of the album. "I want to tell you about how I started," Elvis says, before diving into the story of how he was driving a truck and studying to be an electrician when he went into a record store to cut an album. “They arranged to put me on television,” he says, listing Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan, and Steve Allen. He tells a funny story about having to sing to a dog on the Steve Allen Show and how they refused to show him beneath his waist (Elvis, not the dog). Here's a video of that performance.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Not only do we have fun, but we also learn something.

7. 11:56-12:19
"I’d like to do a medley of some of my biggest records for you." There is no medley.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: There is no fun to be had here.

8. 12:20-14:09
"I want to sing a lot of songs and walk around and sweat," he says, which makes the audience lose their minds. He seems to be in Kansas City, because he says he's from "Memphis, Missouri," and then repeats the joke, but tells them it's "Memphis, Kansas."

How much fun do have with Elvis?: Some fun. If you are from either Missouri or Kansas it's probably more fun, though.

9. 14:10-14:36
Elvis says, "I'd like you to listen to our bass singer. He goes down to an E, below low flat, whatever that is. Low Flat, I ain't never heard of that. You ever heard of that, Ronnie?" We don't hear his bass singer.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: This is getting un-fun.

10. 14:37-15:43
“I’m the NBC peacock," he says. He then starts crooning “well well well wells” again. This will not be the last we hear of his "well well wells." There's some crazy drumming and crowd laughter, and Elvis says, “You shouldn’t laugh at us handicapped folk." Sounds like there's some physical comedy going on that's lost on the listeners at home.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Eh.

11. 15:44-17:12
In this section, Elvis talks a lot about drinking water and the importance of staying hydrated. He even warns the audience that he may be taking frequent breaks to drink his glass of water.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Not "fun," per se, but his advice about hydration is important.

12. 17:13-17:46
This section of the album features some genuinely terrifying screaming from the audience. “It’s getting a little wild in here, boy,” Elvis says, before laughing maniacally. He then says he's about introduce the members of the crew, but Colonel Parker, "on the piano," is the only person to get mentioned before it cuts away.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: This part is a little frightening.

13. 17:47-18:25
He hums and sings, “well…” some more before announcing, "That’s all folks!" Side A ends here.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Zero.

14. 18:26-20:34
Side B starts much like Side A ends, with Elvis singing, “Well well well well.” He then makes a joke about his "fruit of the loom” being too tight, which earns wild laughter. There's more drumming, like from before, which means he must be doing some physical comedy again. He sings a few more “well well wells” before, confusingly, announcing “That’s it folks" and ending a concert at the very beginning of Side B.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: More than we have had in a while, but the "well well wells" are getting tiresome.

15. 20:35-21:29
A whole bunch more "well well wells." A woman says something from the crowd, to which Elvis replies, “After the show, honey...let me get another ‘well’ out.” He's become very self-aware of all his repeated use of the word "well."

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Side B is not too fun so far.

16. 21:30-22:06
“I’d like to walk around for a second, get my breath back," Elvis says. He then talks with four women, raising his voice to imitate them.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Some? Honestly, this is all starting to wear on me.

17. 22:07-22:42
Elvis asks the audience to listen to his bass singer again, and again we don't hear him.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: He imitates a B-52 bomber here, which is fun-ish.

18. 22:43-23:24
Here, Elvis struggles with his belt and mentions that it's Father’s Day before introducing the audience to his father. “He’s more of a ham than I am.”

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: This was sweet, which will have to count for fun.

19. 23:25-23:40
He talks about how great the audience is.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: A little pandering, but we're starting to have some fun again.

20. 23:41-24:25
He's in Louisiana and mentions that he's got a tiger next to him (must be buttering up the LSU fans in attendance). A woman screams that she loves him, and Elvis goes, "Oh I love you honey but I gotta sing this song.” Once again, there is no song.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: A little.

21. 24:25-26:47
"People've thought for a long time that’s something I do to be sexy,” he says. We don't know what he's doing because we can't see it.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Who knows? We can't see it.

22. 26:48-28:49
Here he goes with the "wells" again. “Honey, what are you screaming for? I’ve just sung 'well'...If that’s all I gotta do, I’ve got it made." Great, no sign of the wells stopping any time soon.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Well...

23. 28:50-30:32
“We haven’t played this place before, but you’re really a fantastic audience...“You wanna hear ‘Don’t Be Cruel'? Alright.” We don't hear "Don't Be Cruel."

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: Don't be cruel.

24. 30:33-31:16
“This next song is a song I recorded when I first started singing, about two years ago [pause for laughter]. My scarves’ got fuzz on it.”

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: No fun.

25. 31:17-32:34
Elvis gets so into his "wells" that he loses track. "Where was I?” he asks, and someone in the band goes, “WELL WELL WELL WELL.” “Appreciate it," Elvis replies, "I was wellin’.” Yes you were.

How much fun do we have with Elvis?: We haven't had fun in a while. For the rest of the album, I will just pick out choice quotes from each section.

26. 32:35-32:50
"I'd like to tell you that the last time we were here, we had a fantastic time, but this time it's much better, really."

27. 32:51-33:00
"This next song is one of my first records." [No song]

28. 33:01-34:01
“No rose, no scarf, baby.”

29. 34:02-34:37
“Hello Memphis. It’s a pleasure to be home here." [Continues to paraphrase Thomas Wolfe]

30. 34:38-35:08
"Thanks for the flowers and the little bear."

31. 35:09-35:30
“That won’t play." [Regarding a gold record someone has handed him]

32. 35:31-36:28
“It’s been a pleasure laughing with you”

33. 36:29-36:50
"You know what I can't do? Get my belt tightened."

34. 36:51-37:38
"Well..."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

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]

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