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5 College Bowls With Peculiar Corporate Sponsors

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College football's bowl season is here, and it's brought its annual cavalcade of baffling sponsorship deals with it. For much of college bowls' century-plus history, the postseason games carried humble monikers. The Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, Salad Bowl, and Refrigerator Bowl all accentuated just how much time bowl organizers spent in their kitchens frantically looking for something quotidian whose name they could slap on their bowl; "Ummm"¦have we named a game after the blender yet? Does anyone else think "˜Spatula Bowl' has a nice ring to it?" However, selling naming rights has become a hot business since the 1980s, and now most bowls' names are more market-driven than indicative of local color.

In honor of the corporate magic that now permeates almost every bowl, here are a few of our favorite bizarre corporate sponsorship and naming deals:

San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl

If you're like me, you were probably sitting around last Thursday night mulling the logistics of a hypothetical move to San Diego. If I took a county job, where would I do my banking? I couldn't have been alone in this conundrum. The entire nation was wondering, and if they'd been watching the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, they would have known. Does a local credit union really need the national exposure of sponsoring a bowl game? If you've got a more efficient idea for letting people in Vermont know about the 4.00% APY they could be earning with an average daily balance over $100,000 in the credit union's Money Market Max account, I'd like to hear it.

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl

Armed_forces_bowl.gifSimilarly, a lack of brand awareness among the civilian public is among the biggest problems facing the manufacturers of high-end military aircraft. Sure, a company may make some of the very best attack helicopters money can buy, but when John Q. Public needs aerial artillery he's just going to walk into his local arms dealer's and pick out the first thing he sees that's on sale. Credit the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl for trying to break this cycle. The manufacturer of civilian and military helicopters (not to mention tiltrotors) gets a captive audience of football fans and potential government buyers when Air Force plays in the Fort-Worth-based bowl game this year. Even better, they also get to advertise directly to fans of the other team, the University of California, Berkeley, a school whose socially conscious protests could certainly receive a serious boost from the kind of anti-tank air support only a Bell AH-1 SuperCobra can provide.

MPC Computers Bowl/Roady's Humanitarian Bowl

Of course, some football fans would prefere a bowl that affiliates itself with a more sympathetic cause, like kindness or saving puppies. The marketing gurus at MPC Computers and the Humanitarian Bowl are not among them, though. When MPC bought the 2004-2006 naming rights for the game played on the trademark blue "Smurf Turf" of Boise's Bronco Stadium (below), "humanitarian" was dropped and the name was changed to the MPC Computers Bowl. The move spared the company from having its public image sullied by rumors of humanitarianism, thereby saving MPC from constantly being hit up for charitable donations like a bunch of suckers. By the time the bleeding hearts at Roady's Truck Stops acquired the naming rights for this year's game between Fresno State and Georgia Tech, the bowl had already reinstated the offending positive adjective; the game is now known at the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl.

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galleryfurniture.com Bowl, EV1.net Bowl, Houston Bowl, etc.

Despite computer companies' naming chicanery, it's important to remember that the Internet boom made a plethora of sports advancements possible, particularly convenient fantasy football scoring, round-the-clock access to news and scores, and a host of questionable bowl sponsors. While many of the resulting names were cumbersome, nothing rolls off the tongue quite like the galleryfurniture.com Bowl, which was played in Houston's Astrodome in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, the name was changed to the rather uninspired Houston Bowl before Internet luminaries EV1.net took over title sponsorship from 2003-2005. The bowl then folded. However, this marketing fiasco was nowhere near the worst of Gallery Furniture founder Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale's career; in 1987 a chained lion used in promotions at a flea market owned by the furniture mogul mauled an 8-year-old girl.

homepoint.com Music City Bowl at Adelphia Coliseum/Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at LP Field

musiccity1.jpgAt least these sponsors are still corporate entities, though. Fans who still wear their commemorative t-shirts from the 1999 homepoint.com Music City Bowl clash between Kentucky and Syracuse at Nashville's Adelphia Coliseum carry the names of not one, but two defunct companies on their chests. The game's title sponsor, a home furnishings website, is no longer around, and cable giant Adelphia filed for bankruptcy in 2002 after falling victim to massive internal corruption. Investors in companies associated with the 2007 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at LP Field, take heed.

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys. His last contribution to mental_floss was the ultimate athlete tattoo quiz.

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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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES