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Five Athletes that Played Through Old Age

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Last week, I saw the great documentary Gotta Dance about the Netsationals, a team of senior citizens that danced hip-hop at New Jersey Nets games. Then I found out that Julio Franco retired, which would indicate that Julio Franco had still been playing baseball. I was shocked; I had assumed that Franco had retired long ago, what with him being older than my father.

In honor of my elderly athletic discoveries last week, here's a look at some athletes that didn't let their age slow them down on the field.

Julio Franco

Baseball's most senior player debuted in the majors in 1982 and made his last MLB appearance 25 years later. He holds the distinction of being the oldest person to hit a home run, on May 4, 2007 at age 48. He played for eight MLB teams and had pit stops in Japan, South Korea and Mexico, where he ultimately retired. ESPN compiled a fun list of facts putting Franco's streak in perspective. Here are a couple of highlights:

- Pitcher Edwin Nunez of the Mariners was the youngest player in baseball (19) the year Franco came into the majors. He played a total of 13 seasons in the majors "¦ and retired 14 years ago.
- Franco was in his sixth major league season, with his second team, when current Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton was born.

John Burnosky

Most people don't even make it to 96, let alone with enough energy to ice skate. But John Burnosky does more than that- he still plays hockey, even just four years shy of his centennial. The Guinness World Record holder for "World's Most Durable Hockey Player" once played some minor-league hockey, but never made it to the big leagues because of his scrawny size. Now he plays in 60-and-up tournaments and is easily the oldest person in the tournament. As an added benefit, among hockey players, he probably doesn't have to worry about wearing his dentures. george blanda.jpeg

George Blanda

It wasn't too surprising when George Blanda set the NFL record for most career points. After all, he had more chances to score them. Blanda played for an impressive 26 seasons and went until he was 48 (take that Brett Favre). The quarterback and kicker had good reason to stick around, too. He was famous for a five-game stretch in 1970 where he led last-minute comebacks. He also passed for seven touchdowns in one 1961 game.

Albert Beckles

Most men won't take their shirt off past a certain point, but Albert Beckles had no problem with it. He continued his body building career into his sixties, even winning the Niagara Falls Pro Invitational at the ripe ol' age of 61. The former Mr. Universe also holds the record for most competitions. After his retirement in 1992, he became a vegetarian.

Aladar Gerevich

Aladar Gerevich won his first Olympic gold medal for fencing in 1932. Then, 28 years later, he won another gold, the largest span of time between any two Olympic medals. In between, he won eight other medals and became the only athlete to win gold medals in six different Olympics. In a made-for-Hollywood moment, he showed up for the trials for the 1960 games, but was told he was too old to compete. So what did he do? He individually challenged every member of the team to an individual match"¦and won.

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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]