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The Quick 10: 10 Weird College Football Trophies

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Iowa is a state divided this weekend. Our two biggest schools "“ Iowa State and the University of Iowa "“ face off at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames tomorrow (that's ISU turf). The winner not only gets bragging rights, but also the coveted Cy-Hawk Trophy. Ain't she a beaut, Clark?


OK, maybe it's not the most original trophy out there. These 10 are a bit more creative.

platypus1. The Platypus Trophy is awarded to the victor of the Civil War "“ no, not that Civil War, but the one between Oregon State and the University of Oregon. Why a platypus? Because the platypus has qualities from the mascot of each school: a duck bill for the Oregon Ducks and a beaver tail for the Oregon State Beavers. This one is fairly recent "“ after being traded for a few games in the late "˜50s and early "˜60s, the trophy went missing. It was rediscovered in 2005 and started being traded between the schools again in 2007.

2. The Dutchman's Shoes trophy goes to the winner of an annual game between Rensselaer Polytechnic University in Troy, New York, and the Union College Dutchmen of Schenectady, NY.

3. Paul Bunyan's Axe is the mythical object at stake when the Minnesota Golden Gophers face off against the University of Wisconsin Badgers. Prior to the Axe, the two schools traded the Slab of Bacon trophy.

BUCKET4. The Old Oaken Bucket is one of the oldest trophies in the history of college football. It's traded between Purdue and Indiana. The trophy has literary origins "“ it was named in an 1817 poem by Samuel Woodworth that waxed nostalgic about a childhood homestead, which people from Indiana apparently felt was similar to their feelings about the state.
5. The Wagon Wheel trophy that the University of Akron and Kent State vie for has a nice little story, although I'm not sure how true it is. Allegedly when John R. Buchtel, the founder of what would become the University of Akron, was trolling for a spot to put his school in 1870, his wagon became stuck in the mud. The wheel was so stuck that the only solution was to leave it there and get a new wagon. In 1902, the wheel was discovered near Kent State and ended up in their hands. In 1945, it was suggested that the wheel be used for a football trophy between the two schools, both located in Akron, and it has been traded back and forth ever since.

6. The Little Brown Jug was lost by Michigan coach Fielding Yost during a 1903 game against Minnesota. The game ended in a tie, but Minnesota found the jug and kept it as sort of a victory trophy, writing the score on the side and making sure that Minnesota's name was much bigger. When Yost asked that the jug be returned, the head of the Minnesota athletic department told him he would have to win it back. It has been the trophy between the two schools ever since, even though Michigan seems to have it most of the time "“ they lead Minnesota in wins, 66 games to 22.

Floyd7. Minnesota sure likes their trophies. Floyd of Rosedale is a giant bronze pig that Iowa and Minnesota play for. But he represents the real thing. Back in the "˜30s, Iowa Governor Clyde Herring and Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson bet a prize hog on the matchup. Minnesota won, so Herring coughed up "“ he obtained a hog from Rosedale Farms in Fort Dodge. Floyd was named after the Minnesota Governor, obviously. The pig died a few years later, but the tradition was kept by commemorating him in bronze.

8. The Jeweled Shillelagh between Notre Dame and USC is really quite the prize "“ the Irish club is studded with rubies and emeralds. Every Irish win is another emerald shamrock for the shillelagh and every Trojan win is another ruby Trojan head. The original became so gem-adorned in 1989 that it had to be retired; it now resides at Notre Dame. The new one was thrown into rotation in 1997 and is currently in Los Angeles.

9. Although the Illibuck sounds like a mythical creature along the lines of unicorns and pegasuses (pegasi?), the Illibuck is actually just a little wooden turtle that sometimes lives in Illinois and sometimes lives in Ohio. The Illinois Fighting Illini and the Ohio Buckeyes duke it out for the honor of taking Illy Illibuck home every year. Like Floyd of Rosedale, the "trophy" was an actual turtle from 1925-1927, then was replaced with a wooden likeness once the original turtle passed on. The turtle's shell holds the year and the scores, but since there's only room for so much writing on the back of a turtle, the current Illy is the ninth incarnation (10th if you count the living turtle).

nails10. The Keg of Nails is the bizarre award of choice between the Cincinnati Bearcats and the Louisville Cardinals. They've been exchanging it since 1929 and it's believed that it originated between fraternities, with the thought that the game champions were as tough as nails. The original was lost, so today's version is just a replica.

Does your college or alma mater trade a weird trophy? Share in the comments! And Go Cyclones!!

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.