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100 Years of Scoreboard Watching

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Scoreboards have come a long way since the turn of the 20th century, when operators climbed ladders to update boards with chalk or hang a different number to indicate the start of a new inning or quarter. Manually operated boards slowly gave way to more efficient electric boards, which eventually incorporated video and grew bigger and brighter by the year. Here's a look at how scoreboards have evolved over the past 100+ years.

Early Scoreboards

Leave it to a couple of Ivy League schools to pioneer the use of scoreboards, or score boards as they were known at the time. Harvard claims that its athletic association unveiled the nation's first scoreboard during a football game on Thanksgiving Day 1893, while others credit Penn, which opened Franklin Field in 1895, with that distinction. For what it's worth, one of the earliest mentions of a score board in the New York Times was on November 11, 1894, in an account of Penn's 12-0 win over Princeton at the Trenton Fairgrounds.

Scoring Goes Electric

In 1908, Chicago inventor George A. Baird developed an electric baseball scoreboard that recorded balls, strikes, and outs. While Baird's invention was tested by Boston's two major league clubs, it didn't immediately catch on across the league. Team owners were hesitant to provide information to fans for fear that it would cut into the sale of scorecards, but the electric scoreboard signaled an eventual shift in the in-game experience at stadiums and arenas. Over the next two decades, manually operated scoreboards evolved to feature more information than the score. Lineups with player names and numbers were displayed, along with scores and pitchers' numbers from games around the league.

The Origins of Gametracker

While baseball teams weren't initially keen on electric scoreboards, newspapers embraced the technology. Before games were broadcast on the radio, fans could gather outside of newspaper buildings to follow games that were reproduced using lights and simple graphics on boards operated by workers who received telegraph messages from the site of the game. Crowds in excess of 10,000 would sometimes gather in front of these scoreboards for World Series games.

Scoreboard Watching at the Theater

Around the same time that newspapers debuted their own electric scoreboards, fans could pay for admission to theaters and clubs to follow games on even fancier scoreboard contraptions. As early as 1901, college football fans gathered in New York's Knickerbocker Athletic Club to track games taking place across the country on a scoreboard invented by Arthur Irwin, the brains behind the scoreboard that Harvard reportedly unveiled in 1893. The "Coleman Life-like Scoreboard," which is pictured above and featured in a series of fascinating photos on Shorpy.com, debuted in 1913 at the National Theater in Washington, DC. Advertisements for Coleman's invention, which took 10 years to build, heralded it as "the greatest baseball invention in the world." Operated by five men, including a telegraph operator, the scoreboard featured 19,000 feet of wire and 400 stereopticon slides. Light bulbs translated play-by-play information received via telegraph into graphical displays on a 30-foot screen. "You see every play as it is made upon the field, with life-like pictures of players that hit the ball, run the bases, get put out or slide to safety," the ads proclaimed. "The ball sails through the air, actual players run, catch, or pick up the ball and make the play"¦Bring the ladies."

Dial-a-Down

Stadiums primarily featured manually operated scoreboards throughout the 1920s and 30s. This diagram from a 1932 issue of Popular Mechanics depicts an innovation that allowed a single operator to update a football scoreboard while remaining hidden from view. The operator would watch the game through a peephole and rotate numbered metal disks that displayed the score, quarter, down, and yards to go.

Yankee Stadium and the "Electronic Miracle"

When Yankee Stadium opened in 1923, it featured a large manually operated scoreboard in right field that was visible to every spectator in the park. In 1950, the Yankees unveiled an electric scoreboard that the team called "the most efficient scoreboard ever built and, in general, a big stride forward." The Yankees' new scoreboard was operated by two men as opposed to five and featured a non-glare enamel covering.

Before the 1959 season, the Yankees made another upgrade, installing the first scoreboard to feature a changeable message display. The New York Times, which dubbed the new scoreboard "the electronic miracle," provided the specifics: "The board will contain 11,210 lamps with a wattage of 115,000, 619,000 feet of electric cable, will weigh 25 tons (not including the steel supporting structure), will have more than 4,860 push buttons on the master control console and will have a total face area of 4,782 square feet."

Clearing the Scoreboard at Wrigley Field

Wrigley Field's iconic 89-foot scoreboard was built in 1937 under the direction of flamboyant club treasurer and future White Sox owner Bill Veeck, whose father was team president until he died in 1933. Most of the original Wrigley Field scoreboard, which still stands today, is manually operated, but the batter's number, balls, strikes, and outs are displayed electronically in the center portion of the board. The original control panel is still in use. While no baseball player has managed to hit the scoreboard, golfer Sam Snead cleared it with a drive from home plate in 1951. Snead was invited to take aim at the scoreboard while he was in Chicago to get an X-ray of his broken right hand. According to newspaper accounts, Snead hit the scoreboard with a 4-iron before clearing it with a 2-iron.

"What's baseball coming to?"

That's what former White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes asked after Comiskey Park's exploding scoreboard, which featured multi-colored pinwheels and shot off fireworks after every home run by a Chicago player, was unveiled in 1960. "All I know is that if I was a pitcher whose home run ball had started that Fourth of July celebration, I'd fire my next pitch at the head of the next hitter," Dykes told a reporter. While some opponents resented the extravagant display, which was another one of Veeck's ideas, the unique scoreboard design was retained when Chicago's current stadium opened in 1991.

Bigger and Better

When the Houston Astrodome opened in 1965, its 474-foot wide scoreboard was the largest in all of sports. The scoreboard featured 50,000 lights that erupted in a 45-second animated display of cowboys, ricocheting bullets, flags, steers, and fireworks after every Astros home run or victory. The display was set to a soundtrack that included "The Eyes of Texas."

Diamond Vision

The Los Angeles Dodgers unveiled a $3 million, 875-square foot video board at the 1980 All-Star Game. Mitsubishi's Diamond Vision, which enabled operators to show replays using a VCR, was the first video board of its kind and a sign of things to come. Similar video boards soon became standard in stadiums and arenas, as the resolution and functionality of the screens improved and Sony entered the market with its popular JumboTron. In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys unveiled the world's largest high-definition video display, an LED scoreboard developed by Mitsubishi.

Other Iconic Baseball Scoreboards

In baseball more than any other sport, the scoreboard helps define a stadium. Here's a look at some of the more famous baseball scoreboards from the past and present:

Ebbetts Field

The scoreboard at Brooklyn's Ebbetts Field featured a "Hit Sign, Win Suit" advertisement for Abe Stark. The "˜h' or the "˜e' in the Schaefer beer sign would flash to indicate the official scorer's ruling on hits and errors. Oriole Park at Camden Yards pays homage to that creative detail by flashing the "˜h' or the "˜e' in the sign atop its scoreboard.

Crosley Field

The 58-foot tall scoreboard at Cincinnati's Crosley Field was installed in 1957. Houston's Jimmy Wynn, a Cincinnati native, hit what is considered the longest home run at Crosley Field in 1967. Wynn cleared the scoreboard with a blast than landed on I-75.

Fenway Park

The manually operated scoreboard at the base of Fenway Park's Green Monster was installed in 1934. The initials of the team's former owners, Thomas A. Yawkey and Jean R. Yawkey, are written in Morse code in two vertical stripes on the scoreboard.

Anaheim Stadium

The Big A, the 230-foot high scoreboard support in Anaheim, cost $1 million and was unveiled in 1966. It was moved to the parking lot in 1980.

Kauffman Stadium

The Royals replaced their 12-story, crown-shaped centerfield scoreboard as part of their $256 million renovation to Kauffman Stadium in 2007. The new scoreboard, which was unveiled on Opening Day 2008, is 8,736 square feet, more than twice the size of the original.

Herschel Greer Stadium

Minor league ballparks feature some noteworthy scoreboards, too. The guitar-shaped scoreboard at Herschel Greer Stadium, home of the Nashville Sounds, was installed in 1993.

Have you been to a ballpark with a scoreboard that deserves to be mentioned?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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