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11 Facts About Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

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The Beatles' status as the Biggest Music Group in the World was in danger of being taken away from them during the first few months of 1967. The band had announced they were no longer going to perform live because of the growing physical dangers that came with touring, largely thanks to John Lennon's seemingly blasphemous comments on Christianity, which stoked religious fervor in the United States. Guaranteed sellout audiences—crowds so loud that nobody, not even the band, could hear a note of the music—were replaced by half-empty stadiums by the time the Fab Four performed in San Francisco on August 29, 1966 for what would be their final concert (not counting that rooftop performance in 1969).

When they reconvened in November of 1966, they found themselves with as much time as ever to get their next album as perfect as they could. What Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, producer George Martin, and engineer Geoff Emerick came up with was Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a loosely conceptual album that was both a celebration and a piss-take on the psychedelic bands that had been popping up at the time.

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released to the public on June 1, 1967, and served as a confirmation that The Beatles were not only alive and well, but still at the forefront of pop music innovation; "The Summer of Love" came shortly after.

1. THE TITLE CAME FROM AIRPLANE SALT AND PEPPER PACKETS.

By the time The Beatles took a three-month vacation in the latter part of 1966, they were all tired of being The Beatles. McCartney and tour manager/assistant Mal Evans ruminated on this problem as the two traveled together, ending their international adventures in Kenya. On their flight back to London, McCartney was developing an alter ego for the band for their next record.

"Me and Mal often bantered words about, which led to the rumor that he thought of the name Sergeant Pepper," McCartney explained to author Barry Miles about how he came up with the name. "But I think it would be much more likely that it was me saying, 'Think of names.' We were having our meal and they had those little packets marked 'S' and 'P.' Mal said, 'What's that mean? Oh, salt and pepper.' We had a joke about that. So I said, 'Sergeant Pepper,' just to vary it, 'Sergeant Pepper, salt and pepper,' an aural pun, not mishearing him but just playing with the words." McCartney then added "Lonely Hearts Club" to "Sergeant Pepper," and figured it would be a "crazy enough" band name, "because why would a Lonely Hearts Club have a band?"

2. THE BAND WAS UNDER A LOT OF PRESSURE.

Because of the perceived fading popularity of the group, Beatles manager Brian Epstein and their label EMI put pressure on Martin and the band to release a "can't-miss" hit single. Caving in to the pressure, two of the first three songs from the Sgt. Pepper sessions were released as a double A-side single: "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane." As was the practice at the time with singles, those two classic songs weren't included on the album. Martin later said that listening to Epstein and EMI in this instance was "the biggest mistake" of his professional life.

3. IT WAS INFLUENCED BY THE BEACH BOYS' PET SOUNDS, AND FRANK ZAPPA.

George Martin was quoted as saying that if Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys had not created and recorded their classic album Pet Sounds, "Sgt. Pepper never would have happened." McCartney repeatedly played the album at Abbey Road during recording sessions. Unbeknownst to The Beatles, they were fulfilling their part in a pop group ouroboros, because Wilson was inspired to write Pet Sounds after hearing The Beatles' Rubber Soul.

In June 1966, Frank Zappa's The Mothers of Invention came out with the double-record Freak Out!, a satirical album that also happened to contain classical music-influenced movements instead of individual tracks; some consider it to be the first rock concept album. "This is our Freak Out!" McCartney supposedly said during the Sgt. Pepper sessions.

4. DOGS MIGHT GO NUTS IF YOU PLAY THEM "A DAY IN THE LIFE" ALL THE WAY THROUGH.

A 15-kilohertz high-frequency tone/whistling noise can be heard—if you have the remastered CD version and not the vinyl repressing anyway—after the iconic final piano chord finishes resonating and before the backwards talking that closes the album. It was Lennon's idea to add the equivalent of a police dog whistle after he had an hours-long conversation with McCartney about frequencies. McCartney admitted to it all in 2013. Some believe the inclusion of the dog whistle was a subtle nod to the influence Pet Sounds had on the album.

5. RINGO REFUSED TO SING ONE LYRIC.

The song originally began with the hypothetical, "What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and throw tomatoes at me?" Starr remembered what happened years earlier when fans constantly threw jelly babies on stage, after Harrison mentioned that he liked them. The drummer worried he would just be asking for it and take tomatoes to the face and other parts of his body for the rest of his life, and informed Lennon and McCartney there was "not a chance in hell" he was going to sing the line as written.

6. RINGO NEEDED A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS WITH "A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS."

Starr was apprehensive about singing the number, and was more than happy to head home instead after an all-nighter recording the instrumental to the track. But the other Beatles wouldn't let him leave despite it being just before dawn. Emerick, the album's engineer, wrote about what happened when Ringo started to go up the studio stairs to end the session, as he and his boss, Martin, witnessed and listened:

He was at the halfway point when we heard Paul's voice call out.

"Where are you going, Ring?" he said.
 Ringo looked surprised. "Home, to bed."
 "Nah, let's do the vocal now."

Ringo looked to the others for support. "But I'm knackered," he protested. To his dismay, both John and George Harrison were taking Paul's side. "No, come on back here and do some singing for us," John said with a grin. It was always a group decision as to when a session would end, and obviously Ringo had jumped the gun a bit.

Starr groaned and wondered out loud if they were still going to be there at Abbey Road when that night's session was due to start, but he managed to get the vocal right, with his three bandmates gathered around him, silently conducting and cheering him on just inches behind the mic. The drummer still had trouble with the final high note, and after it was determined studio effects weren't an option, Paul, George, and John had to encourage him again to give him the confidence to pull it off. Once he hit the note, they toasted with scotch-and-cokes and finally called it a night/morning.

7. FOR THE MOST PART, RINGO WAS BORED.

While the others consulted with Martin on technical aspects of the songs they wrote and kept Starr—who had not written any material for Sgt. Pepper—waiting around longer than ever to record the percussion overdubs, he learned how to play chess.

8. "SHE'S LEAVING HOME" WAS WRITTEN ABOUT A TEEN WHO REALLY RAN AWAY FROM HOME, AND HAD MET THE BEATLES YEARS EARLIER.

McCartney wrote "She's Leaving Home" after reading in the local newspaper about 17-year-old Melanie Coe, who went missing without her car, checkbook, or any spare clothes. It turned out that Coe was shacked up with a croupier she had met at a nightclub, and ended up coming home 10 days later. What McCartney never realized was that he actually met Coe on October 4, 1963, when she won a miming contest on the TV show Ready Steady Go!. McCartney was the judge.

9. THE PABLO FANQUE IN "BEING FOR THE BENEFIT OF MR.KITE!" WAS GREAT BRITAIN'S FIRST BLACK CIRCUS OWNER.

Lennon was not aware of this. He had taken the lyrics for his song from an 1843 poster for Pablo Fanque's circus, which he had purchased in an antique shop on the day he filmed the music video for "Strawberry Fields Forever." Lennon hung it in his music room, where he played his piano, which lead to the obvious inspiration. Martin aided with the production considerably, based on Lennon's direction to make "Mr. Kite" sound like people can "smell the sawdust".

10. ADOLF HITLER IS HIDING ON THE ALBUM'S COVER.

Lennon had initially asked for Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler, and Mahatma Gandhi to appear on the cover with the other celebrities and historical figures, but all three of those suggestions were nixed. Yet, Sir Peter Blake—the artist responsible for the design of the picture along with Jann Haworth—revealed in 2007 that wasn't exactly true.

"Hitler and Jesus were the controversial ones, and after what John said about Jesus we decided not to go ahead with him—but we did make up the image of Hitler," Blake told the Independent. "If you look at photographs of the outtakes, you can see the Hitler image in the studio. With the crowd behind there was an element of chance about who you can and cannot see, and we weren't quite sure who would be covered in the final shot. Hitler was in fact covered up behind the band."

11. THE BBC BANNED "A DAY IN THE LIFE."

Sgt. Pepper made its public debut on May 20, 1967 at 4 p.m. on the BBC's Where It's At. Excerpts from every song except "A Day In The Life" were played, as the tune had been officially banned the day before for promoting "a permissive attitude toward drug-taking." BBC believed that McCartney's singing "found my way upstairs and had a smoke" was a drug reference, and that Lennon's line about "Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire" might be a reference to a heroin junkie's arm.

Because of that ban—and the belief that "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" also referenced drugs—the three suspicious songs were omitted from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band when it was released in South Asia, Malaysia, and Hong Kong.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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