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The Goose, The Gulf War, and The Jedi: Super Bowl Memories from Tampa Bay

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If Sunday's Super Bowl is like most of the previous 42, it will be forgettable unless you consider the Terrible Towel a fashion accessory or are one of the few and, at long last, proud Cardinals fans. While there was a dude who walked around in a dress, even yesterday's Media Day was rather tame. At least there's still hope that the commercials will be good. Here's a look back at some of the colorful characters and memorable ads from the previous three Super Bowls held in Tampa Bay. Perhaps they'll jog your memory of the actual games.

2001: Super Bowl XXXV

The game was a dud "“ the Baltimore Ravens routed the New York Giants 34-7 to win their first Super Bowl "“ but the week leading up to the game was rife with uncharacteristically serious storylines. Ray Lewis, the leader of the Ravens' dominating defense, was grilled by reporters about his alleged involvement in a murder the previous year, while Giants quarterback Kerry Collins opened up about his battle with alcoholism. Tony Siragusa, who was a bazillion times funnier as a player than he is as a sideline reporter, ensured the week wasn't completely devoid of comic relief.


Media Day Notes: Siragusa, who misses a beat in answering questions about as often as he misses a meal, was asked what he'd be doing if he weren't a football player. "A stripper," replied the 340-pound defensive tackle, who was also asked if he needed a shoehorn to put on his helmet. (No, just a little grease.) The Giants' Michael Strahan wasn't spared the inanity. A reporter asked him if he had ever met actress and fellow gap-toothed icon Lauren Hutton. Strahan said he met her once and thanked her for making the gap in vogue.

The Ads:

Cedric the Entertainer made his debut as a Bud Light pitchman in this memorable spot, which begins with the comedian romancing a woman on a couch and ends with beer spraying all over her face. In a parody of its popular "Whasssssup?" series of ads, Budweiser's "What are you doing?" was one of the most quotable ads of the year.

1991: Super Bowl XXV

super-bowl-25.jpgThe launch of Operation Desert Storm less than two weeks before the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills met in Super Bowl XXV cast a cloud of nervousness over the event. For a change, the game lived up to its billing, even if the excitement it generated was tempered by the war in Iraq. Whitney Houston sang a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and Peter Jennings provided a news update before the halftime show. With the Giants leading 20-19, Buffalo kicker Scott Norwood lined up for a 47-yard field goal with 8 seconds left, but pushed it wide right. Giants coach Bill Parcells received a Gatorade shower, while the Bills and their fans endured the first of four consecutive Super Bowl losses.


Media Day Notes: Unprecedented security measures that are considered the norm today greeted reporters at Media Day. Among the 2,200 accredited media members was MTV VJ Downtown Julie Brown, who asked the Giants, "How's the morales of the team?" When someone asked Brown to predict the winner of the game, she responded, "The team with the best bums." There were serious questions, too. When asked whether he thought the Super Bowl should be played, New York's Leonard Marshall said it should be, and then inappropriately suggested that the game was like war. "It's a struggle for land," Marshall said.

The Ads: Pepsi's "You've Got the Right One Baby" spot featuring Ray Charles and various backup singers earned top billing from USA Today's Ad Meter. While the Bud Bowl sneak-preview media reception was canceled "out of respect for the mood of journalists who have been assigned to cover Super Bowl week," the third year of the Bud Bowl series was aired as planned. The same couldn't be said for a Pepsi promotion that would've prompted viewers to call a toll-free number for a chance to win $1 million. The Federal Communications Commission forced Pepsi to drop the number from the ad out of fear that it would jam the country's telephone switchboards.

1984: Super Bowl XVIII

super-bowl-tampa.jpgAs the defending Super Bowl champions, the Washington Redskins strolled into Tampa Bay with a swagger. They left humbled after the Los Angeles Raiders crushed them 38-9 in what was at the time the biggest blowout in Super Bowl history. This game is the perfect example of a Super Bowl that is remembered more for what happened before the game and during commercial breaks than for what transpired on the field.


Media Day Notes: Each team had its own walking sound byte "“ John Riggins for Washington and Lester Hayes for Los Angeles. Riggins was asked what he thought of Lyle Alzado's comments that the Raiders defensive end was going to knock his head off. "I'm going to wear a parachute, so when he knocks my block off, it'll fall onto a nice soft spot, and I hope he's gentleman enough to hand it back to me," Riggins said. Hayes stole the Media Day show, however, channeling the Star Wars trilogy in most of his responses. Witness: "A tremor in "˜The Force' tells me that the score shall be in the high 40s, and the Silver and Black shall be victorious"¦We are a benevolent Darth Vader. We shall zap them. So be it."

The Ad: Arguably the most influential ad in the history of the Super Bowl, Apple Macintosh's minute-long "1984" spot introduced the world to its personal computer in dramatic fashion. Directed by Ridley Scott, Advertising Age named it the Commercial of the Decade. An interesting read on the ad, which turned 25 this month, can be found here.

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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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