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7 Major League Baseball Stadium Icons

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Every baseball stadium has its characters, including fans, hecklers, and longtime team employees. These people are as much a part of the identity of a team as the players themselves. Here's a not-at-all-exhaustive list of seven baseball stadium icons, beginning with the woman who set the standard upon which future generations of icons would be judged.

1. Hilda Chester: Cowbell Lady

If Christopher Walken attended a Brooklyn Dodgers game in the 1930s, he may have clamored for less cowbell. Hilda Chester wouldn't have listened. Chester, who had a job filling individual peanut bags before Dodger home games, was a regular heckler in the bleachers at Ebbets Field. After Chester suffered a heart attack, her physician forbade her from yelling, so she let her presence be known by banging a frying pan and an iron ladle instead. In the late 1930s, Dodgers players presented Chester with a brass cowbell, which she rang while berating players "“ against her doctor's orders "“ in her Brooklyn accent until the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. Chester died in 1978, but is still considered one of the most iconic baseball fans of all-time.

2. Ronnie Wickers: "Woo Woo"

woo-woo.jpgWickers, whose life story was made into a 2005 documentary, WooLife, is an icon among the Bleacher Bums at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Wickers was abused by his mother and raised by his grandmother on the South Side of Chicago. He attended his first Cubs game in the 1940s and estimates that he began his idiosyncratic and piercing "Cubs, Woo! Cubs, Woo!" chant around 1958. Wickers worked as a custodian at Northwestern University for many years, but was homeless from 1984 to 1990 while he struggled to come to grips with the deaths of his girlfriend and grandmother. Since then, he has capitalized on his celebrity by making money through appearances in commercials and at parties, in addition to washing windows near Wrigley Field. Today, you can still find the 68-year-old Wickers in the bleachers, wearing a Cubs jersey with "Woo-Woo" on the back, delivering his trademark chant.

3. Mike Brito: The Radar Gun Guy

radar.jpgBaseball insiders know Mike Brito as the longtime Dodgers scout who discovered pitching sensation Fernando Valenzuela while on assignment in the Mexican Leagues. Casual observers know Brito as the Panama-hat-wearing, radar-gun-toting, cigar-chewing guy in the suit who sits behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Brito provided radar gun readings for no extra charge for 20 years until the installation of luxury seats and an automatic radar gun forced him out. He remains a scout with the Dodgers, but is skeptical of modern radar guns, telling the Los Angeles Times, "They want people excited, they want big numbers, but you can't fool people who know baseball." In addition to his scouting prowess, Brito has also enjoyed a successful acting career, appearing in at least 10 Mexican films. He has appeared in one American film, Talent for the Game, in which he played a baseball scout. [Photo from Flickr user Michael G. Baron.]

4. John Adams: The Drummer

drum.jpgBy day, Indians fan John Adams works on computer systems for AT&T. By night, he plays drums "“ well, drum "“ for sellout crowds in the city that's home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In an interview with the New York Times last year, Adams estimated he has taken his 26-inch-wide drum, nicknamed Big Chief Boom-Boom by legendary Indians broadcaster Herb Score, to all but 34 of the more than 2,500 home games the Indians have played since Aug. 24, 1973. Adams is also the inspiration for one of the greatest ballpark promotions of all-time: a bobblearms doll featuring his likeness, which the Indians gave away last season. Adams has set rules for when he plays the drums (never after a pitcher comes set, always when the Indians have runners in scoring position, are tied or trailing late in a game, or are ahead in the top of the ninth). "I don't see myself as being anything extra special," Adams told the Times. "I'm just a sports fan "“ a tough sports fan. And anybody who's a sports fan in Cleveland has to be tough."

5. Ernie Tyler: The 84-Year-Old Ball Boy

ballboy.jpgTyler is inarguably the Iron Man of stadium icons. On Monday, the Orioles' umpire attendant worked his 50th consecutive Opening Day. From 1960 until July 2007, Tyler didn't miss a single Orioles home game; his impressive streak ended only after he accepted an invitation from baseball's other Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr., to attend Ripken's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. In addition to rubbing mud on new baseballs before the game and delivering balls to umpires between innings, Tyler manages the umpires' room at Baltimore's Camden Yards. During the game, he can be seen sitting near the Orioles dugout, waiting to retrieve a foul ball that dribbles behind the plate or deliver a handful of baseballs to the men in blue.

6. Mark Simons: The Doorman

simons.jpgIf you've seen any highlights from a Milwaukee Brewers home game, chances are you've seen Mark Simons. While he sports a different authentic jersey from his impressive collection for each game, Simons has occupied the same seat behind the visitors' dugout at Miller Park since 2001, and his mug is visible every time a right-handed batter steps to the plate. A Brewers broadcaster anointed Simons "The Doorman" after watching him gesture for former Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa to take a seat in the dugout after striking out, but "The Homer Gauge" might be a more appropriate nickname. Simons, who keeps his heckling completely PG, is usually the first person standing with his arms raised when a Brewers batter connects with a ball that is about to leave the park.

7. Robert Szasz: The Happy Heckler

heckler.jpgIf a heckler hurls insults at a player and no one is there to hear it, does he make a sound? Yes, in the case of Robert Szasz, who has owned Tampa Bay Rays season tickets behind home plate since 2003. Szasz began heckling one player from the opposing team per series and his family-friendly taunts, which pierced the idle silence of once-sparsely populated Tropicana Field, were regularly picked up by Tampa Bay's local broadcast and subsequently rebroadcast on ESPN's SportsCenter and Baseball Tonight. Szasz, who drinks Sierra Mist and takes Robitussin to keep his voice in top form, aimed to capitalize on his cult following by writing a book, The Happy Heckler. There's nothing happy about the financial trouble the real estate developer is in today, however. According to an article in the St. Petersburg Times, banks have filed five lawsuits against him since January, claiming he has stopped paying on more than $9 million in loans.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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