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How Chewing Gum Prevents Songs From Getting Stuck in Your Head

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We’ve all been victims of the earworm: a catchy piece of music gets stuck in our heads and no matter what we do, we can’t seem to dislodge it. Earworms are incredibly common; 90% of us suffer from earworms at least once a week. And while they’re not actually harmful, they can be really distracting. In one survey, a third of participants classified their earworms as “unpleasant,” which is a nice way of saying “severely annoying.” Some people claim they can control this phenomenon, but most of us just have to suffer through it. But fear not! Researchers have come to the rescue with a scientifically backed earworm prevention weapon: bubble gum. 

Yes, scientists at the University of Reading, UK say the best way to treat earworms is to chew gum. 

Why we get earworms in the first place isn’t entirely clear, but one likely culprit is the brain’s auditory cortex, which processes sound. Dr. Philip Beaman, an associate professor of cognitive science at the University of Reading, says the brain’s tendency to repeat a familiar tune “may be a form of involuntary musical memory.” One proven method for degrading short-term memory is to repeat a random word over and over again in your head (the official term for this is “irrelevant sub-vocalisation”). Previous studies have shown that “mouthing something random like the first few letters of the alphabet while looking at a list of words makes most people forget 1/3 to 1/2 of the words on the list,” explains Deborah Netburn at the Los Angeles Times. The act of chewing gum has a similar effect, the new research suggests, and “therefore can be recommended as an aid to get rid of earworms.”

If you’re not a fan of gum, you could also pick up a puzzle book when you can’t shake an annoying song. Previous research suggests solving a tough anagram or sudoku can help. “The key is to find something that will give the right level of challenge,” Dr. Ira Hyman, a music psychologist at Western Washington University, told the Telegraph. “If you are cognitively engaged, it limits the ability of intrusive songs to enter your head.” 

You don’t want something too difficult or your mind will wander, and you don’t want something too easy. “It is like a Goldilocks effect – it can’t be too easy and it can’t be too hard, it has got to be just right,” Hyman says

Others fight off earworms with another song, psychologist Vicky Williamson told NPR. “Some people think that the British national anthem sung quite slow is good for getting rid of earworms,” she says.

In case you were wondering, some of the most common earworms, according to researchers, are: “Single Ladies” by Beyonce; “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga; and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles. I’d also like to add “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.

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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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