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7 More Examples of Owners Behaving Badly

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Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams caused a minor flap last weekend when he extended two boisterous middle fingers to the Buffalo Bills' sideline. While some fans might think an 86-year-old man firing the bird with both barrels is amusing, the NFL didn't share in the chuckle; instead, the league fined Adams $250,000. Adams is hardly the first sports owner to find himself in a dicey situation, though. Sure, you know about the transgressions of the George Steinbrenners and Al Davises of the world, but check out these other out-of-control sports owners:

1. John Spano, New York Islanders

If you're going to buy a sports franchise, it helps to have the money to pay for it. It's by no means a prerequisite, though, as John Spano demonstrated when he bought the New York Islanders in 1996. Spano claimed to run a 6,000-employee leasing company and have a net worth of $230 million.

However, it quickly became apparent that Spano didn't actually have the cash he claimed. His deal to buy the Islanders had included an $80 million payment to pick up the team's cable rights, but his checks kept bouncing (or he'd send a $1,000 check instead of a $17 million one). A subsequent investigation revealed that Spano was really only worth roughly $2 million, and his company only had 22 employees, not 6,000. Spano's payments for the $80 million TV deal ended up totaling around $26,000.

Eventually, Spano was charged with bank fraud, wire fraud, and forgery, with many of the charges stemming from his brief ownership of the Islanders. In 2000, he was sentenced to 71 months in prison. After he was released on parole in 2004, Spano quickly worked his way back into jail by perpetrating another loan fraud.

2. Ernie Paragallo, Race Horse Owner

His name isn't as familiar as some of the others on this list, but thoroughbred race horse owner and breeder Paragallo found himself in seriously hot water earlier this year. New York state police raided Paragallo's Climax, NY, horse farm in April and charged the owner with 22 counts of torturing or injuring animals and failing to provide them with enough food. Paragallo, who burst onto the national racing scene in 1996 as the owner of Kentucky Derby favorite Unbridled's Song, received a grand jury indictment for an additional 13 cruelty charges in August.

3. Cornel Penescu, FC Arges

Don't tell us you don't follow Romanian soccer. Last May, Penescu, the owner of the Romanian soccer team FC Arges, was arrested on charges of attempting to bribe officials to rig matches in Arges' favor. According to Romania's anti-corruption authorities, Penescu filled four referees' pockets to the tune of $165,000. In return, the refs were to make sure Arges kept picking up victories. If convicted, Penescu faces up to 15 years in prison.

Oddly, this sort of thing might not be all that uncommon in Romanian soccer. An earlier corruption investigation centered on the owner of another team, FC Steaua, offering 1.7 million euros to a team if they would beat Steaua's main rival. Although officials never got the charges to stick, a Steaua exec was detained on game day while carrying a suitcase stuffed with—you guessed it—1.7 million euros.

4. Marge Schott, Cincinnati Reds

Among the late Cincinnati Reds owner's more colorful controversies: owning a Nazi armband and claiming Hitler was "good at the beginning, but he just went too far," using racial slurs when referring to her own players, giving her St. Bernard free reign over the Reds' ballpark, and expressing disappointment when Opening Day was postponed following the on-field death of umpire John McSherry. Classy lady.

5. William Del Biaggio, Nashville Predators

You'd think people would have learned about trying to buy an NHL team with ill-gotten funds from the cautionary tale of John Spano. William "Boots" Del Biaggio apparently didn't, though. The Silicon Valley financier forged a series of financial documents in order to convince several banks and two NHL owners to give him around $110 million in loans. Del Biaggio then used this cash to buy a stake in the Nashville Predators.

As it turned out, though, the stock holdings that Del Biaggio had used as collateral for his loans weren't really his. Instead he'd just acquired other, richer peoples' account statements and doctored them to include his name. Prosecutors weren't so amused when they uncovered the scam. They forced Del Biaggio into bankruptcy, including the liquidation of his stake in the Predators, and charged him with forging financial documents. In September, Del Biaggio received his sentence: eight years in prison and an order to pay $67 million in restitution. The lesson here: think twice before making nine-figure loans to guys named "Boots."

6. Jerry Buss, Los Angeles Lakers

The longtime Los Angeles Lakers owner ran afoul of the law in May 2007 when he drove his gold Mercedes station wagon the wrong way down a Carlsbad, CA, street. When the California Highway Patrol pulled Buss over, they learned the 74-year-old owner was quite drunk and quickly arrested Buss for driving under the influence. Buss issued a statement that said, "Although I was driving only a short distance, it was a bad decision and I was wrong to do it."

NBA Commissioner David Stern wasn't totally placated by Buss' apology, though. He suspended Buss for the first two games of the 2007-2008 season and fined the owner $25,000. Additionally, Buss' criminal conviction carried a $1,900 fine, five years' probation, and enrollment in a first-time offenders' program.

7. Peter Pocklington, Edmonton Oilers

The former owner of the Edmonton Oilers took a few liberties with the Stanley Cup. When the Oilers won their first Cup in 1984, Pocklington had his father's name engraved on the trophy. The NHL dealt with the problem by striking over the elder Pocklington's name with a line of "X"s. In early 2009, authorities in California arrested Pocklington on bankruptcy fraud charges. NHL coaching legend Glen Sather posted Pocklington's $1 million bond.
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And here's the video of Bud Adams in action:

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]