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My Minor League Promotion Roadtrip

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After writing last week's post about failed baseball promotions, I was left a little disenchanted about being a baseball spectator. This wasn't helped by game I attended last week, where the free promotion ended up being a camouflage trucker hat that I will certainly never wear again. Luckily, I remembered the joy that are minor league baseball games, where the tickets are cheap, the games hardly matter and the promotions are extravagant. Here's a look my two-week plan to hit the coolest minor league promotions in America.

July 29: Blair Field, Long Beach, CA

The Long Beach Armada of Los Angeles of California of the United States of North America Including Barrow, Alaska reacted to the recent NFL dogfighting scandal by hosting Michael Vick Animal Awareness Day. Fans were encouraged to bring their dogs to the game and anyone who brought a Vick jersey or shirt was given free admission. The in-game promotions were changed to make the dogs more welcome, including a doggie first pitch, a wiener dog race and dog washes. And don't worry about the dogs leaving a mess on the field. What do you think they did with all those jerseys?

July 31: Edward A. LeLacheur Park, Lowell, MA

I've always thought of baseball as a pretty offensive game, so it's a good thing the Lowell Spinners put on Political Correctness Night. The names of the positions were changed, leaving the Spinners playing "first base-person" or "vertically challenged stop." In a classy touch, errors weren't announced to the crowd so the players didn't get embarrassed.

August 1: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, FL

Fans coming to see the Palm Beach Cardinals on My Two Cents Night were each given two pennies at the door. They were encouraged to drop the pennies off at various themed tables around the stadium and spout off about the topic at hand. I'm sure that didn't stop mullet1.jpganyone from sharing their opinions about the umps from their seats.

August 2: PGE Park, Portland, OR

Mullet Night is the kind of promotion only Jeff Foxworthy could love. Fans seeing the Portland Beavers are urged to dress up like rednecks and participate in toilet seat horseshoes and the unofficial hub-cap tossing world championship.

more craziness after the break...

August 3: Ernie Shore Field, Winston-Salem, NC

Drag in Drag Night has been in the works for a long time. Brave volunteers from the Winston-Salem Warthogs front office volunteered to dress up in drag for this game, but only four will get the, um, honor. Throughout the month of July, fans could donate money to one man's jar; the four lucky winners will get to drag the infield in dresses. And no, it's not all for kicks; all the money raised is going to the Special Olympics.

August 4: William Peccole Ballpark, Reno, NV

vote_button.jpgSince all the candidates have already been campaigning for the 2008 presidential race for months now, it's about time we started voting. At Election Night, fans of the Reno Silver Sox will get the opportunity to vote on the candidate they prefer. The declared candidates have been invited to speak before the game, but the team's website doesn't mention if any have accepted. And, because it just wouldn't be a promo without swag, all fans get a commemorative piece of straw.

August 5: Lake Elsinore Diamond, Lake Elsinore, CA

The Lake Elsinore Storm are giving away free toothbrushes for this game. I bet they also hand out "promotional" apples on Halloween.

August 7: Eastwood Field, Niles, OH

Baseball can get quite stressful and I'll admit to losing my cool more than once at a game. The Mahoning Valley Scrappers planned for some outrage on Anger Management Night; all fans will get a free stress ball.

August 8: Roger Dean Stadium, Jupiter, FL

It's been my dream job to be GM for a major league team someday (heck, the Devil Rays would probably take me right now), but I can get a step closer at Make Your Own Promotion Night. The Jupiter Hammerheads organization is taking fans' suggestions for future promotions at this even, part of their "Wackier than Normal Wednesdays."
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August 9: Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville, KY

Flocculent fans can show of their unintentional sweaters at the Hairiest Back in Louisville Contest at this Louisville Bats game. The winner of the contest gets free hair removal courtesy of Avanti Skin Centers.

August 11: Elfstrom Stadium, Geneva, IL

How could anyone pass up the World's Biggest Pillow Fight at this Kane County Cougars game?

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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