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Anyone for Tennis? 7 Wimbledon Questions Answered

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The Championships, Wimbledon are in full swing at London's All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. As Roger Federer and Venus Williams defend their singles titles at the only grass court Grand Slam tournament, we thought we'd answer some questions about the world's oldest tennis championship.


How long has Wimbledon been around?
The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club hosted the first tournament in 1877. There was only a men's draw that year, and Spencer Gore bested a field of 22 players to win the first title. Two hundred spectators shelled out a shilling apiece to watch Gore triumph in the finals. In 1884 the tournament expanded to include men's doubles and ladies' singles. Maud Watson beat out twelve other women to claim the inaugural ladies' championship.

British players dominated Wimbledon early in its life; the first foreign champion didn't come along until American May Sutton won the ladies' championship in 1905. Since then, though, things haven't been quite so rosy. There hasn't been a British champion since Virginia Wade won the ladies' draw in 1977, and since then no other British player has even made the finals.

The professional tennis version Wimbledon that we know has really only been around since 1968, though, since the field was closed to professionals for 90 years. After decades of amateur competition, Wimbledon first allowed professional players in 1968, when Rod Laver and Billie Jean King won the singles' titles.

Why are the players wearing so much white?

Because they have to. The All England Club's dress code dictates that players have to wear predominantly white clothing throughout the tournament, a rule unique to the Wimbledon among its Grand Slam brethren. The rule has predictably been the cause for some consternation among players, notably a young Andre Agassi, who didn't like the suppression of his inimitable bright-colors-and-flowing-mullet style. Agassi went so far as to completely skip the tournament from 1988 to 1990, citing the dress code as part of his reason for anne-white.jpgstaying away, although pundits speculated his real hesitance had more to do with his game being ill-suited for grass courts.


Another dress code controversy sprung up last year when Tatiana Golovin took the court. Although her outfit was the prescribed white, she had on bright red underwear that showed on many shots. After a delay, the knickers were deemed short enough to be considered underwear and not part of her actual ensemble. American Anne White, on the other hand, didn't get so lucky at the 1985 Championships. She started a match in a stunning all-white lycra body suit. When the match was later stopped due to darkness, she was told to wear more appropriate threads for the next day; she lost the third set in her more traditional duds.


Who's been the most dominant at the Championships?
Hard to say for the gentlemen, although there are a lot of great choices. Roger Federer is gunning for his sixth straight title this year, which would break the Open-era Wimbledon record he currently shares with Bjorn Borg and tie the all-time record William Renshaw set between 1881 and 1886. For shear bulk, though, Federer will need two more titles to match Pete Sampras' record of seven career Wimbledon championships.

Things are a lot clearer on the ladies' side: Martina Navaratilova owned Wimbledon. Her nine singles titles are a record, as is her run of six straight between 1982 and 1987. Even more impressively, Navratilova added another seven ladies doubles titles and four mixed doubles titles. She was also ageless; her final mixed doubles title came in 2003, when she was 46 years old. Only Billie Jean King, who had six singles titles, 10 doubles titles, and four mixed wins can match Navratilova's 20 combined Wimbledon championships.

wimbledon-strawberries.jpgWhat should a spectator munch on?
Wimbledon's longtime favorite snack is strawberries and cream. In the tournament's early days, strawberries were a very limited seasonal item with availability that happened to coincide with annual tennis event. As the years passed, strawberries and cream became a treasured part of the fan experience. According to one estimate, each year tournament spectators chomp through 27,000 kilos of strawberries and 7,000 liters of cream. Like everything else at Wimbledon, the snack is steeped in tradition: according to the New York Times, the berries are of the Elsanta variety and are picked the day before they're served, and the accompanying cream must contain at least 48% butterfat.

What's the story on the trophies?
The men's trophy has been around since 1887; it's a silver gilt cup with pineapple on top. Its inscription isn't going to win any points for humility: "The All England Lawn Tennis Club Champion of the World." Each gentlemen's champion gets a 8-inch replica of the 18-inch trophy as a memento of his win.

The winner of the ladies' singles draw gets a sterling silver salver, or flat tray, that's known as the Venus Rosewater Dish. According to Wimbledon's website, the trophy, which has been awarded since 1886, depicts various scenes from mythology, including a large central figure of Temperance and an outer ring of Minerva overlooking the seven Liberal Arts. Ladies' champions receive a take-home replica of the Venus Rosewater Dish.

Of course, the champions don't just win this hardware; they also get cash. This year, both the singles champions will pick up 750,000 pounds for their efforts.

What are the words above the players' entrance to Centre Court?
Players take the court at the All England Club's most famous court beneath an excerpt from Rudyard Kipling's "If" that reads "If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same"¦"

Do the players have to bow and curtsy to the Royal Box?
Not always. Until 2003, a rule required players to bow or curtsy to the royal family's box upon entering or leaving Centre Court. In 2003 the rule was modified so that players only had to bow or curtsy if the Queen or Prince Charles happened to be making an appearance in the box that day. That ruling effectively meant no bowing or curtsying; when the rule went into effect, the Queen and Prince Charles hadn't attended Wimbledon since 1977 and 1970, respectively. Interestingly, the rule was the brainchild of the president of the All England Club, who just happened to also be a member of the royal family, Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent.

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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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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