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10 Brilliant (Or Puzzling) Baseball Stadium Promotions

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For many fans, the promise of a great game is plenty of enticement for a pilgrimage to see their local Major League Baseball team play. Others are a bit choosier and need to be lured in with promotions and special events. If you fall into the latter camp, here are some offbeat celebrations and giveaways that might just have you hitting up StubHub and heading to the park this summer:

1. Meet Arnold Umbach

Some teams like to use the prospect of meeting franchise stars to bring fans to the park. The Atlanta Braves have a pretty nice slate of alumni coming back for appearances, including Dale Murphy. There's also the legendary Arnold Umbach. You know, the Arnold Umbach! Who? Exactly. Umbach, a right-handed reliever, put up a nice 3.12 ERA over the course of his Braves career, but said career probably isn't fresh in even die-hard fans' minds. Umbach only pitched 49 innings over the course of his entire MLB career; he tossed 8 1/3 innings in 1964 for the Milwaukee Braves, didn't play in the Majors in 1965, and then went 40 2/3 innings in 1966 for Atlanta. And that's it. So why is he the featured alumni draw at a Braves game? Good question. Head to Turner Field on June 7 and ask him yourself.

2. Garry Maddox Ribfest

Longtime Philadelphia Phillies centerfielder Garry Maddox was a magician with the leather; he won eight Gold Gloves over the course of his career and helped bring a World Series title to Philly in 1980. He's also a man who enjoys his barbecue. On August 8, he'll be hosting the eighth installment of the Garry Maddox Barbecue Challenge at Citizens Bank Park. Get hungry for an event in which restaurants and pitmasters try to outdo each other in the smoked meat department, and fans get to scarf down the cooks' tasty wares. [Image courtesy of BlindPigBBQ.net.]

3. 1989 Mark McGwire World Series Replica Jersey Night

Go to the Coliseum for the Oakland Athletics' game on Monday June 22nd, and you can leave with a Big Mac replica. This one should dovetail nicely with Syringe Night and "We're Not Here To Talk About the Past" Night.

4. 1989 San Francisco Giants Team Reunion

The A's aren't the only team that's honoring the 20th anniversary of the Bay Area Oakland-San Francisco World Series tilt. The Giants are hosting a reunion during their June 13 game against Oakland. The conversation at this one is bound to be worth the price of admission; "Hey, remember when we got swept in the World Series and a giant, deadly earthquake struck the area and delayed the whole thing by 10 days? Ah, precious memories"¦"

5. Wine, Women, and Baseball Tickets

Ladies, have you ever tried to get a group of girlfriends together for a game, only to be shot down because there wouldn't be enough wine at the festivities? The Minnesota Twins have heard your cries, and they're here to help. For just $47 you can buy special ladies-only tickets that include a pregame wine tasting, a gift bag, and "Pamper Yourself" stations.

6. Stitch "˜n' Pitch Night

stitch-pitch.jpgSick of going to Milwaukee Brewers games and not having a fellow needle artist sitting in your section? Well, just wait for the Brew Crew's July 29 game against the Nationals. On this night, the Needle Arts Association and the team are reserving over a thousand outfield loge box seats especially for folks who know their way around a thimble so top sewers can mingle, meet shop owners, and attend teaching sessions. Can't make it to Milwaukee? There's a good chance your home team is having a Stitch "˜n' Pitch Night of its own.

7. Very Specific Workforce Appreciation Nights

When the only thing lower than your squad's payroll is your attendance figures, you've got to do whatever you can to pack some folks in. Credit the Florida Marlins for being promotion-crazy to fill the seats. While you've already missed last Friday's Lawyer Appreciation Night, if you hurry, you can still get seats for CPA Appreciation Night on June 7th. This will be like a second Tax Day for everyone's favorite number crunchers.

8. Empty Seat Night

This exciting (if unintentional) twist on a ballgame will be available at every game between now and the end of the season at the new Yankee Stadium.

9. Get Cheap Seats In Exchange For Your All-Star Ballot

Most teams are pretty shameless about reminding you to fill out an All-Star ballot for the hometown guys when you're at the park. The Chicago White Sox have taken things to a whole new level, though. The team's website is currently offering a deal where in exchange for filling out an online ballot, they'll email you discount codes for $5 or $10 off tickets to several September games. Is this ploy ridiculous? Oh, yes, but when your starting second baseman has a whopping .642 OPS like Alexei Ramirez does, it's not like anyone's going vote for him on his own merits.

10. Dog Day

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Don't want to leave your pooch at home when you head to the ballpark? If you're a Blue Jays fan, you won't have to make that decision on July 26th, when the team hosts Dog Day.


This event likely takes the cake for funniest disclaimer or warning for an MLB promotion; the team's site includes the following in bold type: "Do not bring a female dog in heat."

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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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