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10 Sports Terms Named for People

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Convinced that you might not have what it takes to make a sport's Hall of Fame? That doesn't mean your name can't live on forever in the game's lore. Here are the stories behind a few sports rules and terms that bear a player or innovator's name.

1, 2 & 3. Figure Skating: The Axel, the Salchow & the Lutz

Figure skating is rife with maneuvers named after their innovators. The spinning Axel jump is named after Norwegian skater Axel Paulsen, who first pulled off the trick in 1882, while the salchow takes its name from Swedish skater Ulrich Salchow, who perfected it in 1909. Those lutzes we hear so much about during the winter Olympics are the invention of Alois Lutz, who broke out the first jump of its kind in a 1913 competition.

4. Baseball: The Mendoza Line

MendozaFor a baseball player, hitting below the Mendoza Line is one of the game's most ignominious blunders. The feat takes its name from Mario Mendoza, a slick-fielding shortstop who enjoyed a nine-season career with the Pirates, Mariners, and Rangers from 1974 to 1982. Although Mendoza was an ace with the leather, he couldn't hit a lick, and someone, possibly George Brett, started referring to having a batting average below .200 as being "below the Mendoza line."

In fairness to Mendoza, he ended his career over his own line with a still-pretty-terrible .215 career average. The Mendoza line wasn't a total misnomer, though; he had sub-.200 averages in five separate seasons. Mendoza wasn't pulling an Adam Dunn and buttressing a low batting average with lots of walks, either; his career on-base percentage was a mind-bogglingly bad .245.

5. Boxing: Marquess of Queensberry Rules

Boxing's Marquess of Queensberry Rules are named after John Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry. The rules, which modernized boxing when they were published in 1867, include both reasonable concerns (no wrestling or hugging, rounds should be three minutes long) and ones that seem a bit farfetched today "“ Rule 11 states that "No shoes or boots with springs allowed."

Although the Queensberry name is associated with the rules, John Douglas didn't formulate them. The rules were actually codified by John Graham Chambers, an English athletic legend, but when the Amateur Athletic Club published the rules, they put the marquess' name and endorsement on the code to add a noble touch.
Queensberry also has a literary claim to fame. Oscar Wilde once sued him for libel after Queensberry publicly accused the author of "posing as a sodomite." Queensberry was allegedly not pleased that Wilde had taken his son, the poet Lord Alfred Douglas, as a lover.

6. Soccer: The Cruyff Turn

If you want to make a soccer defender look incredibly silly, hit them with a Cruyff turn. Dutch midfielder Johan Cruyff broke out this little pit of jock-shaking trickery during a match against Sweden during the 1974 World Cup, and it still bears his name. The move is too tricky for words, so have a look for yourself:

7. Basketball: The Trent Tucker Rule

trent-tuckerEver need for your favorite NBA team to hit a last-second desperation heave to win a basketball game? Pray the Trent Tucker Rule doesn't come into effect. According to the rule, catching an inbounds pass and attempting a field goal takes at least 0.3 seconds off of the game clock, and if less than 0.3 seconds remain on the clock, it's impossible to attempt a shot, although a team can score on a tip-in or deflection. The rule is named after a 1990 Bulls-Knicks game in which Knicks point guard Mark Jackson inbounded the ball with 0.1 second left in a tie game, at which point sharpshooter Tucker caught it and nailed a wild turnaround three to win the game.

The Bulls ended up losing a protest over the outcome of the game, but after the season the NBA added the "Trent Tucker Rule" to the books.

8. College Football: The Deion Sanders Rule

Deion Sanders craved attention for being unique, so it's only fitting he has two separate rules named after him. When Neon Deion was a college star at Florida State, he came up with a big interception to seal FSU's win over Auburn in the 1989 Sugar Bowl, but he also opened up a firestorm. It later came to light that Sanders, who was obviously bound for NFL greatness, simply hadn't attended classes or taken finals the fall semester before the game. When state education officials learned about Sanders' slacking off, they made a Deion Sanders Rule that required football players at Florida schools to successfully complete their fall classes if they wanted to play in bowl games.

9. Pro Football: The Deion Sanders Rule

The professional version of Primetime became the center of another controversy when he signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1995. The Cowboys signed Sanders to a contract with tiny yearly base salaries and a nearly $13 million signing bonus in an attempt to circumvent the NFL's salary cap. The league didn't think the maneuver was so great, though, and quickly instituted its own Deion Sanders Rule so that a prorated portion of a player's signing bonus counted against the salary cap as well.

10. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Hat Trick

The Gordie Howe hat trick is a true testament to the hockey legend's versatility. Instead of a standard hat trick where a player scores three goals, he gets credit for a Gordie Howe hat trick by recording a goal and an assist in a game in which he also gets into a fight, a tribute to Howe's deft passing, prodigious scoring, and zest for fisticuffs.

Oddly, although Mr. Hockey's career stretched across five different decades, he only racked up the hat trick that now bears his name twice, both times in the 1953-54 season. Howe wasn't the first to pull off the trick; that honor apparently goes to Harry Cameron, who scored, assisted, and fought in a 1917 game. Modern players have taken the hat trick to a new level; Brendan Shanahan alone has at least nine of them to his credit.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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