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Tuesday Turnip

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It's time for another whimsical Tuesday Turnip search wherein I type a random phrase and we see what kind of interesting factoids "turn-up."

In honor of one of my favorite baseball teams, today I typed in "Fenway Park facts" unearthing the following factoids from a couple different sites:

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  • Opening Day for Fenway Park was April 20, 1912. The Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders (later named the Yankees) 7-6 in 11 innings before 27,000 fans.
  • Opening Day for Fenway Park was April 20, 1912. The Red Sox defeated the New York Highlanders (later named the Yankees) 7-6 in 11 innings before 27,000 fans.
  • Fenway Park was actually due to open two days earlier, on April 18; however, there were two postponements due to rain.
  • Of course, the opening of Fenway Park was pushed off the front pages of Boston newspapers by news of the Titanic sinking.
  • In 1945, a throw by Athletics outfielder Hal Peck hit a pigeon flying over Fenway Park. The ball then deflected to the A's second baseman, who tagged out Boston's Skeeter Newsome trying to stretch his hit into a double. The pigeon flew away, minus a few feathers but otherwise unharmed. Another pigeon was not so lucky in 1974. Willie Horton hit a foul ball into the air at Fenway Park, hitting a low-flying pigeon. The pigeon fell from the sky — dead — and landed in front of home plate.
  • Prior to 1912, the Red Sox played their home games at the Huntington Avenue Grounds, now part of Northeastern University.
  • Besides the Red Sox, several other teams have played in Fenway Park. In 1914, while Braves Field was under construction, the "Miracle Boston Braves" played their World Series games in Fenway.
  • The Boston Patriots — now the New England Patriots — were fall occupants from 1963-68 before eventually ending up in Foxboro. The Patriots, however, were not the first pro football team in Fenway. The Boston Redskins played four years here before heading to Washington in 1937. The Boston Yanks played here from 1944-48 prior to traveling to New York, Dallas, Baltimore (where they became the Colts) and now Indianapolis.
  • Constructed for the 1912 season, the new ballpark was named by then Red Sox owner John I. Taylor because it was built in an area of Boston known as the Fens. As Taylor said, "It's in that section of Boston, isn't it? Then call it Fenway Park."
  • Taylor was also the person who changed the club's name from the Pilgrims to the Red Sox in 1907.
  • The biggest baseball crowd at Fenway ever was 47,627 for a Yankees doubleheader on September 22, 1935.
  • After World War II, more stringent fire laws and league rules prohibited the overcrowding that was so common in the 1930s. The current capacity of Fenway Park is 36,108 for night games and 35,692 for day games.
  • Fenway Park has one of the last hand-operated scoreboards in the Major Leagues in the left-field wall. Green and red lights are used to signal balls, strikes, and outs.
  • Each scoreboard number used to indicate runs and hits measures 16 inches by 16 inches and weighs three pounds. The numbers used for errors, innings, and pitcher's numbers measure 12 inches by 16 inches, and weigh two pounds each.
  • One seat in the right field bleachers is painted red to mark the spot where the longest measurable home run ever hit inside Fenway Park landed. Ted Williams hit the home run on June 9, 1946 off Fred Hutchinson of the Detroit Tigers. The blast was measured at 502 feet. Legend says that the ball crashed through the straw hat of the man sitting in the seat — Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21.
  • No player has ever hit a home run over the right-field roof at Fenway Park.
  • The screen behind Fenway's home plate that protects fans and allows foul balls to roll back down onto the field was the first of its kind in the Major Leagues.
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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