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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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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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