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Secret Red Dwarf Theme Tune Lyrics Discovered After 27 Years

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by James Hunt, Mental Floss UK

Sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf is one of the UK's most well-loved TV shows, with a cult fanbase that has kept it alive in some form or another for no fewer than 28 years. The show's 11th season has just aired with a 12th due in 2017 - so it's with some surprise that we bring you the incredible news that one eagle-eared fan has just discovered something everyone else missed: the opening theme tune has its own lyrics.

The theme in question is actually the show's second intro: an upbeat guitar-based tune that combines elements of the show's original orchestral theme (which was attached for the first two series) and the calypso-inspired end-credits that have been in place since day one. The new intro was first aired in 1989 with the premiere of the show's third series, so it's not like it hasn't been around for ages - it's just that no-one else heard this part before now!

The man in question is the Ganymede & Titan forum user Darrell who reported...

"I’ve only just noticed the vocal parts, namely HOWARD GOODALL SINGING THE NAME OF THE SHOW FOUR TIMES THROUGH A VOCODER."

...only for everyone else to confirm that they hadn't ever noticed it either!

Given the level of attention lavished on the show by its fans and the amount of times the song has been heard on broadcast and DVD, it qualifies as genuinely mind-blowing that no-one else knew this was there. You can make it out quite clearly in this phase-inverted version of the theme on YouTube, with the vocoder parts beginning at the 14 second mark:

The theme's composer Howard Goodall himself confirmed the discovery on Twitter saying that he's "honoured & delighted my vo-coded message from the past has been cracked!".

For reference, you can hear the standard version of the intro here. The vocoded parts are slightly less prominent, but still easy to hear once you know what you're listening for:

Kind of makes you wonder what else you've been missing, doesn't it?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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May 23, 2017
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