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12 Golf Course Perils

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I've always hated golf. I think it has something to do with the compulsory lessons of my youth and the uncomfortable shoes. But, seeing as the British Open is upon us, I thought I would once again venture into the world of pastel-colored plaid, silly looking hats, and carefully manicured grass. The following are twelve perils you probably won't ever encounter on a golf course but should still be aware of—turns out my hatred for the game may have been a defense mechanism in disguise.

1. Lightning

Lightning commonly strikes the tallest object, so when a human is standing in an open, flat area holding a metal golf club, he is transformed into a lightning rod. Hence why my golfing in a thunderstorm is particularly dangerous: every year around 90 people are killed by lightning strikes.

2. Carpal Tunnel

Yup, carpal tunnel. No longer just a common cubicle ailment, carpal tunnel can affect golfers who spend a considerable amount of their time playing golf. Starting with a feeling of numbness and a weakening of the hands, carpal tunnel can be deterred by a loosening of one's grip and regular replacement of grips.

3. Wild Animals

KingCobra.jpg Many times a golf course provides the perfect arena for an impromptu battle of man versus wild. For example, Jim Stewart was attacked by a 10-foot cobra while golfing in Singapore. He killed the cobra with his golf club only to see another snake emerge from its mouth. Other reported incidents have included a one-eyed, 11-foot alligator; crocodiles; hungry bears; a monkey who likes to strangle people; and, of course, dancing gophers.

4. Trains

At Ludkin Links in Fife, Scotland, the 5th green is bordered by a set of train tracks. This situation proved disastrous for Harold Wallace, who was struck by a train while crossing the tracks.

5. Mortar Shells

The greens keeper at Elephant Hills Country Club in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, has his hands full. Pristine holes can often be riddled with craters caused by mortars shot over the Zambezi River.

6. Dead Bodies

Pelham Bay and Split Rock Golf Course was never featured in The Sopranos, but it should have been. Rumor has it that the course, located in the Bronx, is a popular site for dumping dead bodies. Between 1986 and 1992, police found 40 dead bodies in Pelham Bay Park, where the course is located.

7. Flawed Design

In January of this year, a woman sued the Owl's Creek Golf Course in Virginia Beach for $1 million after she was hit in the head by an errant ball, resulting in a brief hospitalization. She claims that the layout of the 16th and 17th holes put herself and other golfers at danger due to their close proximity.

8. Surfacing Ball Retrievers

BallDiver.jpg Golf ball diving is quite a lucrative business ($1.50 - $4.00 per ball), causing many to don scuba gear and plunge into golf course lagoons. These divers can be quite startling to golfers, though, when they emerge from dives. Michael Fleming, a golf ball diver in Georgia, once startled a lady who was looking for her ball in a lagoon, causing her to tumble into the water.

9. Modern Warfare

The green zone in Baghdad is now home to a golf course. The Crossed Swords Golf Course is surrounded by 15-foot walls while guns blast and Black Hawk helicopters whirl in the distance. Each golfer is allowed three clubs and must carry around a patch of grass from which to drive his ball into the holes, which are comprised of baked bean cans. Taking cover when mortar shells penetrate the blast wall is highly recommended.

10. Aroused Libidos

Pennsylvania police were recently called in to investigate a private outing at the Cherry Valley Golf Course one afternoon. What they found were lap dance stations between holes and naked women roaming the course. Despite several verbal threats by one of the golf course's employees, the ribald festivities were shut down.

11. Emergency Landings

Clipper.jpg Golf courses make for effective landing strips. Just ask Robert Kadera of Lake Villa, Illinois, who recently landed his 1949 Piper Clipper on the Marriott Resort Crane's Landing Golf Course. Kadera did not radio in a mayday and crash land his Piper Clipper, but rather made use of the golf course because his son was late for his tennis lesson across the street.

12. Belligerent Ex-Policemen

Recently in Orange County, ex-policeman Raymond K. Yi flashed his badge, cocked his gun, and shouted, "Get the [expletive] out of my way, old man. I could kill you," to Gustavo Resendiz, a fellow golfer at the course. The violent episode occurred after Yi repeatedly broke golf etiquette. Resendiz threw Yi's ball into a nearby creek in retaliation, and Resendiz pulled his gun.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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iStock
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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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