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Sports Illustrated Firsts

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On Mondays, we usually venture into The New York Times archives to find the first time that newspaper covered various topics. But because Sports Illustrated just opened its content vault, we're devoting this week's installment to first mentions worth mentioning in SI.

Mike Tyson

January 6, 1986

Ready to Soar to the Very Top
mike-tyson.jpgThe first time Bobby Stewart saw Mike Tyson, two staff members of the Tryon School for Boys, a center for juvenile delinquents in upstate New York, were leading Tyson across the grounds toward Elmwood Cottage...It was 1979, and Tyson was only 13 years old, but he was already built like a tugboat—5-foot-8, 210 pounds—and he was in handcuffs.

"Even though he was 13, he could beat up most men," recalls Stewart, a former professional prizefighter. It had just taken two men to subdue Tyson after he had bullied and slapped around another boy at the school....Based on his third-grade reading level and a violent and sullen personality—"I had nothing to say to anyone," Tyson says—the youngster was thought to be mentally retarded, according to one school source.

Walking to Elmwood that day, Tyson found the fork in the road that would alter the direction of his life and lead him to where he is today. Where he is, at 19, is precisely 15 fights into a pro boxing career in which he has knocked out all his opponents....He is the most electrifying young heavyweight prospect in years.

Keep reading for Michael Jordan, 'John Madden Football,' Mary Lou Retton, Tiger Woods, Bill Walton, Bill Clinton and more.

Michael Jordan

January 18, 1982

The Creature Was too Much for The Giant
jordan-UNC.jpgJordan is that rare player who's able to fit into [Dean] Smith's system and still come on with his playground moves when they're most effective. "The best thing about Michael is that he pays attention," says Smith. "You tell him something and he does it. He's a freshman with a lot of pressure on him, yet I'd say he's taken no more than two bad shots the entire year. Defensively, of the five starters he's fifth, but that's mainly because the four others are so good."

A native of Wilmington, N.C., Jordan is widely thought of as one of those homegrown talents linked umbilically to the UNC campus. Not so. "I grew up hating North Carolina because I rooted for David Thompson and [North Carolina] State," he says. "I didn't like this place until I came here for basketball camp my junior year in high school." Despite his antipathy toward UNC, one of Jordan's heroes is former Tar Heel Walter Davis, with whom he is often, and accurately, compared, though Jordan will probably develop into a better rebounder—he's pulling down 5.3 a game—and defensive player.

John Madden Football

March 23, 1992

Step Aside, Coach
madden.jpg Because you finally broke down and bought the home video game system that you "“ er, your kids "“ had always wanted, your first choice for a football game should be John Madden Football '92 (Electronic Arts, $49.95) for the Sega Genesis. John Madden Football '92 is head and shoulder pads above all other video football games. The graphics are crisp, the sounds are authentic, and the play selections available are thorough enough to please the most sophisticated fan. Twenty-nine teams—26 from NFL cities, one each in Oakland and New Jersey and an All-Madden team—take the field. Because Electronic Arts doesn't have a licensing agreement with the NFL, the names of teams and players from the league couldn't be used. The loss is minimal. The Denver franchise in Madden '92 wears orange jerseys and blue helmets, plays in an outdoor cold-weather stadium and has a quarterback with a rifle arm. A Bronco by any other name....

Tiger Woods

March 25, 1991

Golf Cub: A mere 15, the precocious Eldrick (Tiger) Woods is already stalking the pros
tiger-1996.jpgTiger, a freshman at Western High in Anaheim, has been fending off the advances of the country's premier college programs ever since he got his first letter from Stanford, at age 13. But can he resist the lure of the Tour when he is already humbling the pros? "I plan to get my degree first," he says, "and then tear up the Tour."

These are brash words from a kid who shaves with tweezers....Tiger is reluctant to forecast his potential social impact. He knows that five years have passed since Calvin Peete became the last black golfer to win a Tour event. He is also aware that he could become the role model for a generation of golfers before he's eligible for his driver's license. But he resists being typecast as a racial pioneer. "I don't want to be the best black golfer on the Tour," Tiger says. "I want to be the best golfer on the Tour."

Mary Lou Retton

June 13, 1983

The Double Romanian Twist: Coached by Bela Karolyi, Nadia's ex, top U.S. prospects are flourishing
mary-lou-retton.jpgBela Karolyi defected to the U.S. in 1981 with a suitcase, leaving everything else behind, including an elegantly shabby old Mercedes, perhaps the only one in all of Transylvania. That ought to have provided a clue: A guy who'll do that must be up to something. Absolutely. Since then Karolyi has gained control of the best U.S. women gymnasts to come along in years, a pair of young competitors who hold such promise for world and Olympic triumph that it's a bit scary.
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One should simply gaze in wonder upon Karolyi's Aerial Circus: Dianne Durham of Gary, Ind. and Mary Lou Retton of Fairmont, W. Va., both 15 and in their first appearances as seniors, one black, one white, both so dynamic they were the hit of last weekend's show—not an easy stunt to pull off in an arena full of high rollers. "No doubt about it, Bela's girls will be great" says Conner. "That is, if they can manage to stay inside their bodies between now and the Olympics."

Cal Ripken

March 22, 1982

Let's Play Ball, Dad
cal-ripken.jpgThe game seems to be in a family way this season, thanks mostly to these two rookies, Cal Ripken Jr., 21, and Terry Francona, 22, each born in the best season of his father's career, each about to make a name for himself. They are at the head of a bountiful baseball freshman class.
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The Orioles had enough faith in Cal to trade Doug DeCinces to California for Outfielder Dan Ford over the winter, and third base is his to keep or lose. "He's the kind of kid you want coming out of your organization every three or four years," says Orioles Pitching Coach Ray Miller, Cal's manager in Puerto Rico the last two years. "He's a low-key guy whose voice doesn't carry, unlike his father, but he'll make people notice him. I just wish he were my kid."

Bill Clinton

July 27, 1992

clinton.jpgIt's Clinton in a (Near) Walk
Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton, who ran (so to speak) the 1.57-mile circuit [around New York City's Central Park Reservoir] in 25 minutes, or at a pace of nearly 16 minutes per mile. "The governor's jogging motto is, Start slow and taper off," said Clinton campaign strategist James Carville.


May 24, 1982

Whole New League, Whole New Season
USFL.jpgThey sat at this long table in New York City's "21" Club: 15 businessmen, all at the pinnacle of success, all apparently sane, all secure and powerful, all millionaires of varying multiples, with the richest said to possess nine-figure fortunes. And they declared with total sobriety and absolute seriousness that they were launching a new 12-team pro football league that, beginning in 1983, will play a 20-game Other Season from March through June, with a championship game in early July. And they announced that they plan not only to put almost all of their teams in NFL cities but also to play in many of the stadiums the NFL uses.

Martina Navratilova

February 24, 1975

A straight-up cool Martina: Only 18, this Czech really bounces
martina.jpgThe night before Martina Navratilova was to meet Chris Evert in the quarterfinals of the Virginia Slims tournament in Washington, D.C. three weeks ago, she did what any nervous young player might have done under the circumstances. She phoned home for some fatherly advice.

"Play drop shots on her backhand," said Mirek Navratil from Revnice, Czechoslovakia.

Martina then did what most youngsters do. "Forget it," she replied. "That way I'll lose 6-2, 6-3. I'll play drop shots on her forehand."

At 18, Martina Navratilova is still young enough to need reassurance from home, old enough to make her own decisions and good enough to have beaten the queen of tennis two weeks out of the last three.

Bill Walton

January 26, 1970

Faces in the Crowd
Walton-1973.jpgBill Walton, 6-foot-10½-inch senior at Helix High in LaMesa, Calif., was named MVP of the Covina Tournament after he scored a record 50 points and grabbed a record 34 rebounds as Helix defeated Pasadena High 110-68 for the title and its 31st straight win.

[Also featured in the same article: Tony Dungy. "Tony Dungy, 14, student president of Frost Junior High in Jackson, Mich., threw 23 touchdown passes over the past three seasons, is high scorer in basketball for the third straight year and has never been defeated in high and low hurdles and long jump in track."]

While wandering around The SI Vault, I found this 1983 cover. And as fate would have it, I have a Republican Georgetown alum friend with a wedding on the horizon. I hope 'framed Sports Illustrated covers' is on their registry.


We're moving into a new office in Brooklyn next month, and it won't decorate itself. If you can find an equally amusing cover from their collection and we decide it's worthy of a spot on our wall, I'll buy you the cover of your choice. You should be able to leave links in the comments if you omit the 'http://www' part.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]