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7 Famous Athletes Who Now Sell Food

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Any old professional athlete can toss in a few hundred thousand dollars and become a partner in a restaurant bearing his name. But for some jocks, that's not enough. They aren't content with the life of the absentee restaurateur; they want to grab shelf space and feed the people with only a grocer as a middleman. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Fred Smoot's SMACK Energy Bar

For those of you who don't follow the NFL all that closely, Fred Smoot is a cornerback for the Washington Redskins. His most notable achievement as an NFL player was being the purported ringleader of the Minnesota Vikings' "Love Boat" scandal, a 2005 episode in which a group of Vikings players allegedly rented a cruise boat for a lewd party on Lake Minnetonka. Smoot entered guilty pleas for two misdemeanors associated with the cruise. Now, in addition to being a pillar of society, he's also an energy bar salesman.

Who wouldn't want to ingest something endorsed by Fred Smoot? His Fred Smoot's SMACK Energy Bar is a crispy chocolate bar that offers all of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and Vitamin A in addition to 50% of your calcium needs. How much calcium is that? According to the product's website, it's as much calcium as a glass of chocolate milk. What really sets Smoot's bar apart, though, is its populist philosophy. As the promo materials note, "This chocolate energy bar is made for EVERYONE, not just those extremely bulky bald-headed men that pull trains and planes in Australia for 'Worlds Strongest Man' competitions and bench press 400lbs in Gold's Gym." So there you have it; Fred Smoot's SMACK Energy Bar is the snack for you, provided you're not trying to win a bodybuilding competition. As Smoot's voice exclaims on the website, "Grabbin' a snack will never be the same!"

2. Tony Siragusa's Goose's Barbeque

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Tony "Goose" Siragusa enjoyed a long career as a defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts and Baltimore Ravens, and picked up a Super Bowl ring in his last season. After his playing days were over, Siragusa turned his attention to a subject near and dear to any 340-pound lineman: food. He opened Tiffany's restaurant and, according to his website, "embarked on a quest to create "˜the filet mignon of ribs.'" (When you're that big and intimidating no one points out to you that filet mignon comes from a decidedly non-rib part of a cow.) Siragusa's quest must have been fruitful, though, because now he's offering a wide range of barbeque products, including baby back ribs, pulled pork, sausage, and meatballs. The prepackaged meats are available online, and at a variety of grocery chains.

3. Boomer Esiason's Ribs

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Siragusa isn't alone in the NFL-retiree-running-a-ribs-business game, though. Former QB and fellow TV analyst Boomer Esiason has his own line of prepackaged, fully cooked ribs as well. Like Siragusa, Boomer found his rib recipe "after a long quest of searching for a rib that's perfect and tender every time with no additional cooking." (Apparently former NFL players love to go on meat-related quests.) Esiason has also marketed Boomer's Barbecue Sauce, and his profits from that venture went to a noble cause: sponsoring research on cystic fibrosis, a disease that afflicts his son Gunnar.

4. Bo Jackson's Soon-to-be-Famous BO Burger

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Bo Jackson's career on both the baseball diamond and football field made him a legend. His combination of strength and speed made him unstoppable in both the NFL and Major League Baseball, and that's not even considering the utter dominance of his character in Tecmo Super Bowl. Now we can add another item to Nike's list of things Bo knows: culinary excellence. Bo Jackson Signature Foods, a division of N'Genuity Brands, offers some of Bo's favorite "white tablecloth specialties."

Bo's menu of prepackaged meats is fairly extensive, and in addition to his self-titled burgers, he also hawks country-fried steaks, veal, and prime rib. Moreover, his BO-tisserie Heat & Serve Roasted Chicken shows that he's just as skilled with a pun as a stiff arm. The products are mostly sold to casinos and the military, and Jackson personally approves each dish.

[Image courtesy of ESPN, from The Worldwide Leader's amazing profile of Mr. Jackson, Bo Knows Bo.]

5. Ben Gordon's BG7 Energy Drink

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Chicago Bulls star Ben Gordon has an NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award to his credit and a soft touch that lets him pour in points without demanding a starter's role. He also has licensed his own energy drink, BG7, named after his initials and jersey number. The drink, which Gordon debuted in 2006 at a Michael Jordan-owned Chicago restaurant, contains a large amount of white tea, only fitting since Gordon was born in London and hopes to play on the British national team at the 2008 Olympics. According to promo material for the beverage, the white tea offers five times the antioxidants of other teas, giving you that perfect boost to come off of life's bench at the first TV timeout. Gordon may not be ready to take the late-night club market away from Red Bull, though; in an interview he expressed optimism that BG7 would mix well with vodka but admitted he'd never tried it.

6. Isiah Thomas' Dale and Thomas Popcorn

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Yes, Isiah Thomas is arguably the worst coach and general manager in NBA history. The New York Knicks teams he has assembled have been terrible despite huge payrolls, and he was also a defendant in a high-profile sexual harassment case from a Madison Square Garden employee. When it comes to popcorn, though, Isiah's still a top dog. Englewood, New Jersey-based Dale and Thomas Popcorn seems to be thriving in the fast-paced world of gourmet popcorn. The company claims to employ the world's only "popcorn chef," and he offers such products as PopTruffles, Cinnamon Crème DrizzleCorn, and the aptly named "Big Tub O' Crunch."

The company was originally known as Popcorn, Indiana. But the name was changed in December 2003, after Thomas tasted the product and supposedly wanted to bring some Bad Boys flavor to an industry long dominated by Orville Redenbacher. As of this writing, Dale and Thomas has the distinction of being his only commercial enterprise Thomas hasn't absolutely driven into the ground, a fact that's either a testament to the high quality of the company's popcorn or an indication that Isiah has little to do with company's day-to-day operations. [Image courtesy of Deadspin.]

7. Pete Rose's SuperCharg'r Energy Bar

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Even though you can't get this one anymore, let's end with a classic. Before Pete Rose was a convicted tax cheat and admitted baseball gambler, he was just Charlie Hustle, baseball's all-time hits king, head-first slider, and energy bar magnate. Rose was peddling power-packed bricks of pure awesomeness well before the current energy-bar craze; his SuperCharg'r bars were available in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

While there's not a lot of information on the product out there, it billed itself as being protein-rich, full of vitamins and minerals, and coated in carob instead of chocolate. Although the bar touted itself as "nature's answer to candy," the Candy Wrapper Museum notes that high fructose corn syrup was the first ingredient listed on the wrapper. (Perhaps we should have realized Rose wasn't to be trusted a little sooner.) Rose's snack was just one in a long line of athletic candy-type products, though, including Reggie Jackson's Reggie Bar, Mike Mussina's Moose Bar, Muhammad Ali's Crisp Crunch, and the San Diego Chicken's Bubble Gum.

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.

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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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May 23, 2017
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