CLOSE

8 Famous (Or Infamous) Fans Who Stood Out From The Crowd

Some of these not-so-secret admirers could sell their own jerseys in stadium stores. Some should be locked up. (And one is.)

1. Bobby Murcer's Biggest Fan

Our first story has a fairy-tale middle and a horrible ending. In August of '77, Bobby Murcer of the Cubs promised to hit a home run for terminally ill fan Scott Crull. That night, Murcer hit two of them. Pretty amazing, especially when you consider Murcer only hit nine homers the whole next season. But that's not why Crull — a 12-year-old from Calumet City, Illinois, with bone cancer — makes this list.

Broadcasting the game nationally on ABC, Keith Jackson told the country how Murcer had fulfilled the dying boy's last wish. Eyes watered, spines tingled. There was only one problem — nobody had ever told the boy he was dying. His parents were horrified. Three weeks later, Crull passed away.

2. The Good Luck Charmers

octopus.JPG

Every sport has its own strange traditions. I'd argue hockey's "throwing an octopus on the ice for good luck" is the weirdest. Tossing the eight-tentacled cephalopod was the brainchild of Detroit storeowners Pete & Jerry Cusimano. The date: April 15, 1952. The logic: one tentacle for each of the eight playoff victories it took to win the Stanley Cup. Later that spring, most likely fueled by the good luck octopus, the Red Wings won the title. PETA has objected to this practice, which continues to this day. The Red Wings mascot is not a Red Wing, but Al the Octopus.

3. The John 3:16 Guy

stewart_hair.jpgAlso known as "Rainbow Man," the born-again Rollen Stewart and his John 3:16 signs were fixtures at major events in the 1970s and 80s. He brought his message to the World Series, Super Bowl, Olympics, and World Cup. He was outside Buckingham Palace when Di & Charles wed; he went to see the Pope in Alaska. But he was more religious fanatic than sports fan. According to the LA Times, Stewart planned to assassinate President Bush and candidate Clinton in 1992. And he's now serving three life sentences for holding a maid hostage at a Los Angeles Hyatt, also in 1992.

By the way, chapter three, verse sixteen of the Gospel of John says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." This is also printed on cups at the In-N-Out Burger.

4. The All-Star Heckler

robin_ficker.jpgFor 12 years, Maryland lawyer and Washington Bullets fan Robin Ficker was the NBA's most prominent heckler. With season tickets behind the visiting team's bench, his antics were legendary. When he reminded Frank Layden of the Jazz that USA Today had rated him Worst Dressed Coach, Layden had to be restrained by security. With the Bulls in town, Ficker loudly read excerpts of Maverick, coach Phil Jackson's sex-laden 1975 autobiography. During the 1993 Suns-Bulls NBA Finals, Charles Barkley (of the Suns) flew Ficker to Phoenix and bought him a ticket behind the Chicago bench. Ficker was ejected in the first quarter.

The Bullets became the Wizards in 1997 and moved into the MCI Center the following season. Ficker's new seats were not in shouting distance of the visiting team, forcing him into heckling retirement. In 2006, he received 9.5% of the vote in a losing bid for Montgomery County Executive.

5. Kim Jong-il

That's right, the world's most feared dictator is a hoops junkie. During a 2000 visit, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright presented him a basketball signed by Michael Jordan. The Chicago Bulls are the favorite team of Kim Jong-il, who reportedly has a video library with every game Jordan ever played. At 5'3", the Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army is roughly the same height as Mugsy Bogues.

6. David Letterman's Stalker

David Letterman's biggest fan was also his biggest headache. When she was arrested for stealing Dave's Porsche in 1988, Margaret Ray told police she was Mrs. Letterman. She was a frequent trespasser on Dave's estate, once camping out on his tennis court. Ray's antics made her a regular monologue target. But the jokes stopped in 1998, when Ray committed suicide. The collective guilt spread when we learned she was schizophrenic, as were her two brothers, who also committed suicide.

7. Joe from Saddle River

benigno.jpgA die-hard Jets, Mets and Rangers fan, Joe Benigno was a frequent caller to WFAN, New York's all-sports radio station. Benigno won the station's Fan Appreciation Day contest in 1994, earning a chance to guest-host his own show. By 1995, Joe was WFAN's overnight guy, a title he held for almost a decade. In 2004, he was deemed ready for daytime and given the 10am-1pm timeslot. For all the lonely and passionate talk radio callers out there, Joe gives hope.

8. Steffi Graf's Biggest Fanatic

Deranged and obsessed with seeing Steffi Graf return to the top of the rankings, Gunter Parche stabbed Monica Seles during a 1993 match in one of the most disturbing incidents in sports history. Almost as disturbing was his punishment. Parche received a two-year suspended sentence and was ordered to attend mandatory counseling. Even more shocking, I can't find footage of any of this on YouTube.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
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