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How Much Do These Umpires Get Paid?

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Major League Baseball's umpires are all over the news after a spate of, er, questionable calls throughout this postseason. Despite larger postseason umpiring crews that include two extra umps in the outfield, it feels like an inordinate number of calls have gone the wrong way.


All of these gaffes have prompted renewed debate about whether baseball should start using instant replay. How could umps blow this many calls that are so obvious when viewed in slow motion? Aren't these guys trained professionals? Are they handsomely rewarded? What do we really know about the men in blue, anyway? After some spotty officiating in the NFL last fall, we did some digging on the officials in the four major sports. Here's what we found:

They Make Good Money

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An NFL ref can make anywhere from $25,000 to $70,000 a season, although since most of the games are on Sundays, they can also have other jobs during the week. (We'll get to those in a minute.) That cash comes with responsibilities, though. In addition to relaying the calls to the teams and fans, a ref is also the crew chief, or leader, of the seven-man officiating team that also includes an umpire, a field judge, a back judge, a line judge, a side judge, and a head linesman.

Officials in other sports pull down more loot, but they have much more grueling schedules...

"¢ Baseball. According to MLB.com, Major League Baseball umpires get around $120,000 when they start out in the big leagues, and senior umps can earn upwards of $300,000. Between spring training, a 162-game schedule, and the postseason, being an MLB ump is a job that takes up most of the year. They are, however, well cared-for while on the road. Each ump gets a $340 per diem to cover hotel and food, and when they fly, it's always first class. Working a full postseason can tack on an extra $20,000, plus expenses. They also get four weeks of paid vacation during the regular season. These guys hang onto their jobs, too; on average, there's only one opening for a new big league ump each season.

"¢ Basketball. NBA refs are similarly well compensated. They earn anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 for an 82-game season. There are some nice fringe benefits, too; when referee Tim Donaghy admitted to helping gamblers fix games, the NBA asked that he repay other benefits he'd pulled in over the course of his 13-year career, including $750 worth of sneakers and $4500 worth of free tickets.

"¢ Hockey. If you can skate and survive the occasional lockout, NHL ref is hardly a bad job. Refs make between $110,000 and $255,000 while linesmen earn from $72,000 to $162,000. (Plus, free trips to Columbus and Raleigh!)

"¢ Women's Basketball. Not all refs are rewarded this handsomely. As you might guess, refs in less popular sports command smaller salaries. According to a 2007 article on sports site scout.com, WNBA refs earn between $600 and $800 a game during the league's 32-game season. That's a floor of just over $19,000 a year for a pretty rigorous job. As the same article notes, women's hoops refs are better off officiating a major-conference college game at $1200 a pop than working a WNBA tilt.

NFL Refs Have Day Jobs

Since NFL refs only work one day each week, they can have "real" jobs to supplement what they earn on any given Sunday. Some of them actually have pretty interesting jobs.

Mike Carey, my personal favorite ref, is an entrepreneur and inventor who holds eight patents for snow sports apparel. He founded and co-owns Seirus Innovation, a ski apparel company.

Walt_Coleman.jpgWalt Coleman (pictured) is infamous in Oakland for being the ref in the "Tuck Rule Game," but he's also a fifth-generation dairy farmer who once held the position of president of the Arkansas Dairy Products Association.


Walter Anderson became an official in the league in 1996 and got the promotion to referee in 2003. Prior to becoming a referee, he was better known as Dr. Walt Anderson, a dentist.

Tony Corrente is probably used to dealing with unruly crowds of guys from his day job as a high-school social studies teacher.

"¢ If Jeff Triplette seems hard to scare on the field, it's probably because he's seen worse. He was an Army Reserve colonel during the Persian Gulf War, where he was awarded a bronze star.

Bill Leavy is similarly tough; he spent 27 years as a police officer and firefighter in San Jose.

Ron Winter's not just a ref, he's also an associate professor in Western Michigan University's phys. ed. department.

Gene Steratore must love how he looks in stripes. In addition to being an NFL ref, he officiates NCAA hoops games and has drawn March Madness assignments in previous seasons.

"¢ And when Ed Hochuli isn't working out or officiating a game, you might find him in a courtroom. He's a trial lawyer in the Arizona firm Jones, Skelton, and Hochuli, which employs over 80 attorneys.

It's a Long Climb to the Top

How does one become a ref? Most of these guys have humble beginnings as officials. Carey started officiating Pop Warner games in 1972 and gradually worked his way up through the college ranks. Eventually, he became an NFL side judge in 1990 and received a promotion to NFL referee, the pinnacle of football officiating, in 1995. Hochuli started as a Pop Warner ref in the early 1970s; he was a law school student who needed a little extra pocket cash. He then slowly made his way up through high school, junior college, and small conference college ball before getting a Pac-10 gig. He eventually made it to the NFL in 1990. It's a slow build, but if you stick it out long enough and have some natural talent, you can be the one patting his head to signal an ineligible receiver downfield.

Still not convinced it's a tough ride? Check out this op-ed former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent wrote for the New York Times last weekend. He cites the paltry salaries for minor-league umps: just $9500 for a five-month season for junior umpires, and only $20,000 a season for guys who have risen all the way to Triple A ball.

Ethan Trex co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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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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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.

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