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10 Fascinating Facts About Buddy Holly

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If Buddy Holly was still alive, he’d be 80 years old today. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, on September 7, 1936 with a slightly different name: Charles Hardin Holley. On his first record contract, his name was misspelled as “Holly,” and he liked it that way. When Holly died in a plane crash on February 3, 1959, he was only 22 years old, but he has had a lasting impact on music history. Here are a few things you might not know about Holly, and his music.

1. HE OPENED FOR ELVIS PRESLEY.

By the time he hit high school, Buddy Holly was playing guitar; by 1953, when he was only 17, he was playing regularly on radio in the country-and-western duo Buddy and Bob (Bob was Bob Montgomery, a friend from elementary school). On February 13, 1955, at the Fair Park Coliseum in Lubbock, Buddy and Bob opened for Elvis—with Holly borrowing Presley’s Martin guitar for the occasion. The pair would open for Presley twice more that year.

2. “PEGGY SUE” WAS ORIGINALLY CINDY LOU.

The single, released on September 20, 1957, first carried the moniker of Holly’s niece, Cindy Lou Kaiter. But Jerry Allison, The Crickets’s drummer who co-wrote the song (with Holly and Norman Petty), prevailed upon the others to name it after his girlfriend, Peggy Sue Gerron. Happy ending: Allison and Peggy Sue got married. Unhappy: they divorced in 1965.

“Peggy Sue” hit number three on the Billboard singles chart, and in 2011 Rolling Stone ranked it 197th on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

3. “ROCK & ROLL AS WE KNOW IT WOULDN’T EXIST WITHOUT BUDDY HOLLY.”

The source of the above quote is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which should know. But their opinion is widely shared. Bruce Eder, writing at AllMusic.com, called Holly “the single most influential creative force in early rock & roll.” In 2011, Rolling Stone ranked him 13th on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”—extraordinary, especially when you consider that he died at age 22, after a recording career that lasted less than two years.

4. HE HAD ONLY ONE NUMBER ONE HIT.

It’s hard to imagine, because so many Buddy Holly singles are classics, but only one topped the U.S. charts: “That’ll Be The Day,” in 1957. It also hit the top spot in England, and not long after, The Quarrymen covered it, in their first recording. You can hear it on The Beatles Anthology.

5. IF NOT FOR HOLLY’S BAND, THE CRICKETS, THERE’D BE NO BEATLES.

John, Paul, George, and Stu Sutcliffe (who played bass for the band during the Hamburg days) were all huge Buddy Holly fans. When trying to come up with a new name for their band (The Quarrymen, their original name after the school they went to, was growing long in the tooth), they thought of the Crickets. Then insects. Then beetles. Then eventually, after several variations, as a pun … Beatles.

"It was beat and beetles, and when you said it people thought of crawly things, and when you read it, it was beat music,” John Lennon explained in 1964. 

6. HE TURNED DOWN ED SULLIVAN.

Well, the third time, at least. In 1957 and 1958, Holly and the Crickets were workaholics on the fast track, touring constantly and recording whenever they had a chance. They played on Ed Sullivan’s popular variety show twice, but, before the latter appearance, had a disagreement with Sullivan, who said they shouldn't play “Oh Boy!” (he thought it was too rowdy). They played it anyway, with great success. When they were invited back to play the TV marquee again, “Buddy told Sullivan’s people to forget it. The Lubbock boys didn’t need him anymore,” Robert Draper wrote in Texas Monthly.

Holly and Sullivan had clashed during the show’s rehearsal. Holly’s band went AWOL, temporarily. “I guess the Crickets are not too excited to be on The Ed Sullivan Show,” the host said. “I hope they’re damn more excited than I am,” Holly replied.

7. HIS GLASSES MADE HIM A FASHION TRENDSETTER.

Buddy Holly Center/Facebook

When Holly started out, he wore nondescript plastic and wire-framed glasses, but his eye doctor—inspired by Phil Silvers’ character, “Sergeant Bilko”—convinced him to switch to horn-rimmed models. These would soon become popularized as “Buddy Holly Glasses.” “It was Buddy’s perception that the glasses helped make him,” his optometrist, Dr. J. Davis Armistead, said. “He was really pleased.” 

He needed the glasses, because he had 20/800 vision.

If you’re ever in Lubbock and want to find the Buddy Holly Center, just look for a giant pair of horn-rimmed glasses: A 5-foot tall, 13-foot wide, 750-pound sculpture of the glasses, created by Lubbock artist Steve Teeters, was installed there in 2002.

8. HE WAS THE PROTOTYPICAL SINGER-SONGWRITER.

Before Holly came along, pop music performance and songwriting were, for the most part, separate businesses; composers crafted tunes in places like New York’s Brill Building, and performers picked from among those songs to record and sing in concert. But Holly and the Crickets wrote most of their own material, which didn’t go unnoticed by the next generation of rock and rollers. “The fact that the group relied on originals for their singles made them unique and put them years ahead of their time,” Bruce Eder wrote at Billboard.com, noting that the group’s first three big hits—"That’ll Be The Day," "Oh Boy!," and "Peggy Sue"—were originals, a stark contrast to Elvis Presley, who didn't write his own tunes.

9. HE “DISCOVERED” WAYLON JENNINGS.

Holly and Jennings had met in Lubbock, Texas, their hometown, and Holly took Jennings under his wing. Among other things, Holly set up Jennings’ first recording session—and played  guitar on two songs laid down that day, "Jole Blon" and "When Sin Stops (Love Begins)."

After the Crickets broke up in late 1958, Holly recruited guitarist Tommy Allsup, drummer Carl Bunch, and Jennings to form his new band. (Jennings played electric bass.)  The four would be the headline act on the “Winter Dance Party” tour of the Midwest, which began on January 23, 1959. The acts traveled the 24-city route by bus, but the brutally cold weather and long distances between nightly gigs proved to be such a problem that Holly chartered a plane from a tour date in Clear Lake, Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota, which was close to the next scheduled venue.

it was a small plane, and Jennings originally had one of the seats, but gave his spot to J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper).

The plane crashed in a windy snowstorm shortly after takeoff, killing Holly, Richardson, and Ritchie Valens, along with the pilot. The “Winter Dance Party” tour continued, without its headliners—with Jennings singing Holly’s vocals.

Jennings felt guilty about the accident for the rest of his life. As he told the story in Waylon: An Autobiography, before the plane took off, he and Holly had bantered: "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up,” Holly said, to which Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes.

10. THE “WIDOWED BRIDE” IN “AMERICAN PIE” WAS HOLLY’S WIFE.

Don McLean’s 1971 classic is all about that fateful plane crash. In the third verse, he sings, “I can't remember if I cried, when I read about his widowed bride.” 

The bride was María Elena Holly (née Santiago), who Buddy wed just two weeks after meeting her at a music publisher in New York, where she worked. She was pregnant when he died, but suffered a miscarriage a few days later. Santiago-Holly still controls much of the continuing business related to Holly’s music, but doesn’t own the songs—they’re held by Paul McCartney.

In 2009, Santiago-Holly told MassLive.com that she liked “American Pie” but disagreed with its central premise. "Buddy may not be here, but the music has not died," she said. "It is still alive and 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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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