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Getting Acquainted With 8 Lesser-Known Schools

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Every year, the NCAA men's basketball tournament field features a few teams that leave casual fans puzzled as they fill out their brackets. The question usually isn't how far one of these teams will advance, but rather, "Where the heck is that?" Just like last year's field, this year's is no exception. Here's a primer on eight of the lesser-known schools in the field.

1. Arkansas Pine-Bluff Golden Lions

Location: Pine Bluff, Ark.
How They Got Here: The Golden Lions defeated Texas Southern in the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title game.
Tournament History: The team is making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: Arkansas Pine-Bluff's marching band, M4, the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South, performed in Barack Obama's inaugural parade. First Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the commencement address at the school on May 8.
Famous Alum: L.C. Greenwood, a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Steel Curtain defense of the "˜70s, graduated from Pine-Bluff when it was still known as Arkansas AM&N in 1969.
Reason to Cheer:

Should they win tonight's play-in game against Winthrop (more on the Eagles below), the Golden Lions would play No. 1 seed Duke. Arkansas Pine-Bluff is no stranger to tough competition. The team opened the season with 11 consecutive non-conference road games, including five against NCAA tournament teams, and lost every one. The Golden Lions finished the season 17-15.

2. Winthrop Eagles

winthropLocation: Rock Hill, S.C.
How They Got Here: Winthrop upset Coastal Carolina in the Big South Conference tournament championship.
Tournament History: The Eagles have been to the NCAA tournament nine out of the last 12 years and upset No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the first round of the 2007 tournament. Winthrop is making its second appearance in the play-in game; the Eagles lost to Northwestern State in 2001, the first year the tournament expanded to 65 teams.
Notable: Winthrop has hosted the U.S. Disc Golf championship each of the last 11 years.
Famous Alum: Cecily Truett Lancit, a producer of Reading Rainbow, graduated from Winthrop. LeVar Burton, in case you were wondering, attended the University of Southern California's School of Theatre.
Reason to Cheer: The Eagles have been waiting 10 8 years for another possible crack at Duke in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils demolished the 16th-seeded Eagles 84-37 in 2002.

3. Wofford Terriers

woffordLocation: Spartanburg, S.C.
How They Got Here: Wofford won the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles.
Tournament History: The Terriers are making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: Wofford's170-acre campus is recognized as a national arboretum. In 2008, the arboretum was renamed in honor of Roger Milliken, a Yale graduate who serves as a Wofford trustee. Milliken's textile and chemical product company, Milliken and Co., is headquartered in Spartanburg and has been recognized for its eco-friendly practices.
Famous Alum: Former Securities and Exchange Commission commissioner Paul S. Atkins, a member of the congressional panel overseeing the U.S. bank bailout, graduated from Wofford before receiving his law degree at Vanderbilt.
Reason to Cheer: It's always fun to root for the little guys. Wofford has the second-smallest enrollment (1,300) of any team in NCAA tournament history. Terriers forward Noah Dahlman told reporters that his Latin American history professor asked him why he didn't tell the television reporters that his team played "like Aztec, Mayan warriors" after its tournament-clinching win.

4. Murray State Racers

Murray-StateLocation: Murray, Ky.
How They Got Here: After cruising through the Ohio Valley Conference regular season, the Racers defeated Morehead State in a rematch of last year's OVC tournament championship game to capture the league's automatic bid.
Tournament History: Murray State is making its 14th appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Notable: If the Racers wear the glass slipper as the Cinderella of this year's tournament, they should consider affixing it to the school's Shoe Tree, located in front of Pogue Library. According to tradition, if a couple gets married after meeting at Murray State, they nail their shoes to the tree, which has become a bizarre-looking lightning rod.
Famous Alum: Popeye Jones, who retired in 2005 after a 13-year NBA career, is the fourth all-time leading scorer in Murray State history.
Reason to Mourn and Cheer: Murray State guard Picasso Simmons' mother was killed in a car crash on Monday in Nashville. The reserve guard intends to honor his mother's memory by traveling with the team to Friday's first round game against Vanderbilt in San Jose.

5. St. Mary's Gaels

saint-marysLocation: Moraga, Calif.
How They Got Here: One year after being snubbed from the NCAA tournament following a loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament championship game, the Gaels left no doubt with a convincing win over the Zags to clinch the WCC's automatic bid.
Tournament History: St. Mary's is making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance and third in the last six years.
Notable: During World War II, the St. Mary's campus was selected by the Navy Department as one of four locations for pre-flight training for cadets. Gerald Ford was stationed there as a naval instructor for a brief time, as the campus population soared from 300 to more than 2,000.
Famous Alum: Bob LaDouceur, who coached the De La Salle High School football team to a record 151 consecutive wins from 1992 to 2003, earned a theology degree at St. Mary's.
Reason to Cheer: The Gaels' only win in the NCAA tournament came in 1959.

6. Sam Houston State Bearkats

sam-houstonLocation: Huntsville, Texas
How They Got Here: Sam Houston State dominated Stephen F. Austin in the championship game of the Southland Conference tournament.
Tournament History: The Bearkats are making their second NCAA tournament appearance and first since 2003.
Notable: The school opened its doors in 1879 with the mission of training teachers to work in Texas' elementary and secondary schools. Contrary to an oft-repeated urban legend, the school was never known as the Sam Houston Institute of Teaching. (Consider the acronym.)
Famous Alum: Legendary news anchor Dan Rather received his B.A. in journalism from the school in 1953.
Reason to Cheer: What's not to like about a team that spells Bearkats with a "˜k'? The nickname dates to 1923, when the school was renamed from Sam Houston Normal Institute to Sam Houston State Teachers College. Until then, the school's athletic teams were known as the Normals. According to the school's media guide, the nickname was most likely based on a popular local saying, "Tough as a Bearkat." The simile referenced a mythical beast rather than an actual animal, which helps explain the mystifying spelling.

7. Old Dominion Monarchs

old-dominionLocation: Norfolk, Va.
How They Got Here: Old Dominion defeated William & Mary in the title game of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Tournament History: The Monarchs are making their 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament. ODU's last win in the tournament came in 1995, when the No. 14 seed Monarchs shocked No. 3 seed Villanova in triple overtime.
Notable: Old Dominion boasts one of the greatest women's basketball programs in history. The Lady Monarchs won three NCAA titles from 1979 to 1985 and also became the first program to grant an athletic scholarship to a woman when they awarded one to basketball player Nancy Lieberman.
Famous Alum: Ben Bailey, the host of the television game show Cash Cab, is one of ODU's many famous alumni.
Reason to Cheer: Monarchs star forward Gerald Lee, who was recruited out of Finland and whose American father, Gerald Lee Sr., is the all-time leading scorer in Finnish pro basketball history, is one of the best players in the tournament most of the country has never heard of.

8. Oakland Golden Grizzlies

oaklandLocation: Rochester Hills and Auburn Hills, Mich.
How They Got Here: Oakland defeated IUPUI in the championship game of the Summit League tournament.
Tournament History: Oakland is making its second NCAA tournament appearance. The Golden Grizzlies won the play-in game after qualifying for the tournament in 2005 with a 12-18 record. They lost to eventual national champion North Carolina in the first round.
Notable: Oakland's athletic teams were known as the Pioneers until they moved from Division II to Division I in 1997. The school solicited suggestions for a potential new nickname and a mascot advisory committee narrowed the possibilities, which also included keeping the nickname Pioneers, to Golden Grizzlies and Saber Cats.
Famous Alum: Neither of them graduated, but it's worth noting that Robert Englund, who played Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels, and David Hasselhoff attended Oakland University.
Reason to Cheer: Did you not just read about the Hasselhoff connection? Oakland's first-round opponent is Pitt, whose student section is known as The Oakland Zoo, a reference to the neighborhood in which the school is located.

Learn something interesting about every team in the tournament, region by region: The South and The West. The Midwest and East regions are coming later this week.

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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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