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Past Olympic Venues: What Are They Now?

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China built over a dozen new venues for the Beijing Olympics, including the "Bird's Nest" Beijing National Stadium and the "Water Cube" Beijing National Aquatics Center. While many of these arenas and stadiums are stunning and maximize athletes' chances at record-breaking performances, how useful are they after the Games end? After all, it's not so often that one needs a 17,000-seat swimming arena. (At least not unless Michael Phelps is responsible for a serious uptick in competitive swimming in Beijing.) So what will become of the Olympic venues? Tough to say; many fade into obscurity or become general-use arenas. However, we do know the fates of these past sites of Olympic glory:

Centennial Olympic Stadium
The 85,000-seat centerpiece of the 1996 Games in Atlanta was the site of some truly incredible moments, including Michael Johnson's blistering runs in the 200 and 400 meters. It's still around, although in a form that would be unfamiliar to hardcore Olympic fans. Downtown Atlanta had relatively little use for a gigantic track and field stadium, but the hometown Atlanta Braves were in need of some new digs. In a clever bit of teamwork, Braves owner Ted Turn footed the bill for a large part of the stadium's construction on the condition that Atlanta's Olympic committee reconstruct it into a baseball stadium after the Games. The Braves moved into their "new" 49,000-seat stadium, Turner Field, for the 1997 season. Ironically, the venue was not appropriate for baseball during the Games, so the Braves hosted the competition on their old home diamond at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

The Berlin Olympic Village
Hitler didn't skimp on any part of the prep for the 1936 Games, and the Olympic Village was no exception. The facility was luxurious for its time and included over a hundred small apartment building with saunas, pools, and an attendant for each house that spoke the visiting athletes' native languages. The village also housed the (no joke) dirt court where players competed for the first Olympic medal in basketball. The village found use as a military training facility following the Games, but Soviet forces destroyed many of the buildings during their postwar occupation of the area. Those buildings that remained received a Soviet touch that included giant murals of the Red Army's victorious march to Berlin in World War II. One special building escaped this fate, though. Jesse Owens' home for his incredible games has seen a restoration and is now open for tourists who want to see where greatness slept.

Olympic Hall Zetra
When Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Games, Olympic Hall Zetra housed the hockey and speed skating events. Unfortunately, when the Bosnian War broke out, its copper roof provided an abundant source of material for munitions, meaning it was stripped off. Serb forces destroyed the venue in 1992, and it seemed like one of the symbols of the Olympic spirit was dead in Sarajevo. Not for long, though. The foundation of the building was still structurally sound despite massive external damage, so in 1997 efforts began to rebuild Olympic Hall Zetra right down to a new copper roof. The building, complete with its shiny roof, reopened in 1999 after a $17 million overhaul.

Olympic Stadium
The showpiece of Montreal's 1976 Games sounded like a great idea. The design was an architecturally striking plan that called for a 58,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. A 583-foot tower next to the stadium, on top of the Olympic swimming facilities, was to control the olympic_stadium5.jpgroof. (The idea was that the flexible fabric roof would kind of fold into the tower like an umbrella.) A track cycling velodrome would also sit near the structure. It was a grand plan, and it certainly would have been the one of the most interesting venues in Olympic history.


Instead, it became arguably the biggest white elephant in Olympic history. Building the tower was tougher than anyone had foreseen, and it didn't get finished in time for the 1976 Games. Or even the 1980 Games, for that matter. Or the 1984 Games, either. The retractable roof finally took its place in 1987, and the retractable function became operational in 1988, over 11 years late. Even then, the design wasn't perfect; heavy winds would maim the roof. Moreover, the fabric required $700,000 a year in annual upkeep before eventually being replaced with a permanent roof in 1998. On top of that, pieces of the stadium had a nasty habit of falling off, including a 55-ton concrete hunk that broke off in 1991. This debacle wasn't cheap, either: despite early estimates that the whole stadium could be built for a few hundred million dollars, its estimated total price was over $1 billion.

Worse still, the stadium suffered possibly the worst indignity of all: it had to host the miserable Montreal Expos' home games from 1977 until the team skipped town following the 2004 season. Since then, the stadium has been used somewhat sparingly, although UFC plans to hold fights there next year. The velodrome located near the stadium, meanwhile, has been converted into the Montral Biodome, an attraction that lets visitors walk around in different ecosystems.

The Dome
The Sydney Showground opened in 1998 as a set of venues for the 2000 Games in Sydney. The Dome is a 10,000-seat arena with a 42-meter timber dome that housed the team handball finals as well as some early basketball matches. This one wouldn't be all that noteworthy, except it's now home to Gladiators, Australia's equivalent of American Gladiators, a fact which brings up the valid question of why the Joust and/or the Assault haven't been granted medal status by the IOC. Cross your fingers for 2016, people.

Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle
George Flinkenbusch designed this 6300-seat arena to house the basketball competition of the 1972 Games in Munich. While the American delegation that included future NBA player, coach, and announcer Doug Collins couldn't wrest the gold medal from the Soviets under the hall's roof, Americans may remember the venue as the host of another bigger, deadlier, more fictitious competition: the one that James Caan's team won in the 1975 movie Rollerball. In addition to serving as a shooting location for the sci-fi flick, the venues also hosted the 1983 Eurovision Song Contest.

cheap-trick.jpgThe Nippon Budokan
The Budokan opened in 1964 as a venue for martial arts at the Tokyo Olympics, and its 14,201 seats certainly acted admirably in that capacity. It became famous with Westerners, though, when it started hosting rock concerts. The legendary venue has played host to such noteworthy shows as the Beatles' Japanese debut in the summer of 1966, the taping of Bob Dylan's live record Bob Dylan at Budokan, Cheap Trick's live classic At Budokan, and scores of other gigs by some of the biggest names in rock history. The Budokan currently hosts concerts, martial arts competitions, and puroresu, which is Japanese professional wrestling.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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