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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."

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With the World Series quickly approaching and the Colorado Rockies already locked in representing the National League, I thought it would be interesting to unearth some factoids about Coors Field, since it's such an unusual place to play baseball (what with the thinner air and all).

The following list comes from a whole bunch of different sites:

  • [A baseball] travels 9 percent farther at 5,280 feet than at sea level. It is estimated that a home run hit 400 feet in sea level Yankee Stadium would travel about 408 feet in Atlanta and as far as 440 feet in the Mile High City.
  • Another important effect of altitude on baseball is the influence thinner air has on pitching. In general, curve balls will be a little less snappy, and fastballs will get about an extra six inches of giddy-up due to the decrease in resistance the thinner air provides.
  • No Rockies pitcher has thrown two complete game shutouts at Coors.
  • Because Coors Field has baseball's largest outfield — it is 350 feet to the right-field foul pole, 347 in left and 415 in center — many balls drop between the infielders and the outfielders, making defensive speed more important than it might be in other ballparks.
  • The Rockies set a record for most consecutive home games scoring at least one run at 361 from 7/5/99 to 9/17/2003. That's over 100 games longer than the previous streak of 258 held by the Boston Braves 1892-1896
  • 10 homeruns have been hit in a game five times, most recently 7/2/2002 vs. the Giants when the Rockies hit 3 and the Giants 7
  • The 303 homeruns hit there in 1999 is the Major League record (3.7 per game)
  • The longest homerun at Coors is 496 feet by Mike Piazza 9/26/97. Larry Walker is second at 493 on 8/31/97
  • [In 2006], the Rockies [started] storing their balls in a humidity- and temperature-controlled room near their clubhouses [called a humidor]. Rockies president Keli McGregor said the room keeps the humidity at 40 percent, compared with 10 percent or less humidity often felt in the city. In their first seven Aprils, the Rockies and their opponents combined to score 15.1 runs per game. This April, the average total score at Coors was 9.8 runs. There also have been 1.42 fewer home runs per game at Coors, again the greatest decrease in the majors.

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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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