Original image

Non-Streaking Fans Who Stormed the Field of Play

Original image

When Roger Federer finally picked up the elusive French Open crown and his 14th career Grand Slam on Sunday, he didn't do it alone. During the second set, a fan charged the court and tried to perch a hat on the Swiss star's head before being carried off the court by security guards. It was certainly odd to see maniacal fan behavior at one of tennis' most hallowed venues, but it's certainly not unheard of. Let's have a look at some other non-streaking fans who interjected themselves into game action.

1. Fan Man

Remember this early-1990s nuisance? James Miller, better known as the Fan Man, literally crashed onto the national sports scene when he descended into Caesar's Palace during a 1993 boxing match between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield. Miller, who was wearing a fan-and-parachute contraption known as a powered paraglider, couldn't quite make it into the ring, and when he crashed ringside, he took a thorough beating from security officers.

For most people, ruining a heavyweight fight and then getting their tail kicked would probably lead them to find a new hobby. Not Miller, though. The next year he rode into a Raiders-Broncos game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles and skydived into an English soccer game. He ran afoul of British authorities in 1994 when he covered himself in paint and landed on top of Buckingham palace. That stunt cost him 42 days in jail, a fine, and a lifetime ban from the United Kingdom.

2. Gunter Parche

seles.jpgMost court-chargers seem to be well-intentioned (if misguided) attention-seekers. Parche was a terrifying exception, though. During a 1993 tennis match in Hamburg, the out-of-work lathe operator infamously stormed the court and stabbed Monica Seles with a boning knife. Although a whole stadium full of people saw Parche stab the tennis star, he never spent a day in jail for his act. He beat an attempted murder charge by claiming that he didn't want to kill Seles, just injure her enough so Steffi Graf, the object of his obsession, could regain the world's top tennis ranking. Parche ended up getting a suspended sentence and undergoing psychiatric therapy.

Over two years later, Seles returned to the court, and she even picked up an Australian Open title after her comeback. However, to protest the light sentence Parche got for attacking her, Seles never played another match in Germany.

3. Britt Gaston and Cliff Courtney

aaron.jpgIf you watch sports, you've seen the highlight of Hank Aaron hitting his 715th career homer to become baseball's all-time dinger king in 1974 dozens of times. As the Hammer rounds the bases, he's joined by two exuberant young men who run with him all the way to third base, then trot out of the frame in an attempt to escape the authorities. Just like that, Gaston and Courtney, who would soon start attending the University of Georgia, became parts of one of baseball's most iconic moments.

History may regard the jogging pair as a quirky little oddity, but the Atlanta police weren't so amused. Gaston and Courtney couldn't make it out of the stadium without getting nabbed by the cops, who took them to jail. After three hours in the clink, Gaston's dad, who had also been at the game, bailed the boys out. After Aaron allegedly pressed for leniency for his two fans, they ended up with $100 fines for "disorderly conduct and interfering with the lawful occupation of another." It was probably worth it, though; when the Braves reenacted Aaron's shot in 1994, the team tracked down Gaston and Courtney to reprise their parts.

4. The Ligue Family

gamboa.jpgNot every pair of field-chargers can be as affable as Gaston and Courtney, though. Take, for instance, William Ligue, Jr., and his 14-year-old son, Michael. During a 2002 White Sox-Royals game at Chicago's Comiskey Park, the duo stormed the field and viciously beat Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa before being intercepted by security. Despite giving Gamboa such a ferocious throttling that he lost part of his hearing, neither Ligue saw any jail time after being charged with multiple counts of aggravated battery and mob action. Instead they got probation for the attack. Of course, when you're as classy as the Ligues, you're going to end up in prison at some point. Ligue received a 57-month sentence in 2006 for breaking into a car.

5. Rick Monday Makes a Save

Rick Monday won a World Series ring with the Dodgers in 1981, and he made two All-Star teams during his career. The longtime centerfielder is probably most remembered for an on-field act that didn't involve his bat or glove. In 1976, Monday was visiting Dodger Stadium while playing for the Cubs. During the game, a father and son jumped onto the field and attempted to burn an American flag in the outfield grass near Monday. The pair of protesters had some trouble getting their matches lit, though, and when Monday realized what they were trying to do, he bolted over to them, grabbed the flag, and took off running while security apprehended the flag burners. Monday, who had previously spent several years in the Marine Corps Reserves, told reporters, "If you're going to burn the flag, don't do it around me. I've been to too many veterans' hospitals and seen too many broken bodies of guys who tried to protect it."

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]