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Scab Story: The 1987 NFL Strike

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The specter of an extended work stoppage means we don’t know exactly when we’ll get to watch pro football again. We’re not experts on the lockout, but we thought this might be a good time to fill you in on the details of the NFL’s last major labor crisis, 1987’s midseason player strike.

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What were the players after?

Free agency. The players had ostensibly had free agency for a decade, but there was a major hurdle to their movement from team to team. The “Rozelle Rule” stated that if a team signed a free agent from another squad, the commissioner could compensate the player’s original team with draft picks or players from his new team. This rule hampered players’ movement in search of bigger paychecks, especially since the compensation to players’ former teams could be as steep as two first-round draft picks.

When did the players decide to strike?

The strike began after the season’s second week of games. The players likely assumed that this tactic would give them leverage, since TV networks would need their games to fill out the following week’s schedules. When the players pulled the same maneuver in 1982, the league’s schedule ended up being reduced from 16 games to nine for the season. The players’ logic was that even if the owners had the nerve to toss together replacement teams, there was no way TV stations would air terrible football.

This time around, though, the owners decided to call the players’ bluff. The NFL canceled Week 3’s games – thereby reducing the season to 15 games – and teams began assembling replacement players. As it turned out, the TV affiliates were happy to show the replacement players’ games. As NFL stars walked picket lines outside of their teams’ headquarters, personnel men scrambled to throw together rosters that could take the field for Week 4.

Did these replacement teams have hilariously punny nicknames?

So glad that you asked. Clare Farnsworth compiled the following brilliant list for a 2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer story: the Los Angeles Shams, the Chicago Spare Bears, the Seattle Sea-Scabs, the New Orleans Saint Elsewheres, the Miami Dol-Finks, and the San Francisco Phoney-Niners.

Did any of the replacement players turn out to be good?

That really depends definition of “good.” Remember, the NFL basically had less than two weeks to toss together 28 complete rosters, so they weren’t particularly picky about whom they suited up. Many of the replacement players were guys who had been cut during training camp or passed over during the draft. Or if a team couldn’t find that sort of luminary, they’d look for random guys who happened to be big, like bouncers.


The best replacement player was probably Houston Oilers linebacker Eugene Seale, who ran back an interception return for a TD in the team’s first replacement-player game. He stuck around with the Oilers until 1992 and even made the All-Pro team as a special teams ace in 1988. Replacement Saints QB John Fourcade kicked around in the league until 1990, too.

Did any of the replacement players go on to better things?

There’s where things get interesting. Hip-hop fans might have recognized a young replacement defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams: Death Row Records CEO Suge Knight, who appeared as a backup in two games.

There was also some legitimate football expertise on the replacement rosters. The Chicago Spare Bears boasted future New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton at quarterback. Payton’s play turned out to be significantly less brilliant than his play-calling as a coach. Payton only completed eight of 23 pass attempts in three games while throwing an interception and taking seven sacks. He racked up a putrid QB rating of 27.3 for his efforts.

Current UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel also suited up during the strike; he went 2-0 as the San Diego Chargers’ replacement starter.

What happened to the actual players in their strike?

The Players Association certainly didn’t put on a clinic in striking solidarity. Some players immediately crossed the picket line, most notably New York Jets star defensive end Mark Gastineau, who claimed he needed the money to pay alimony. (Gastineau would end up scuffling with a teammate who spat in his face as he crossed the picket line one morning.)


Other star players like 49ers QB Joe Montana, Seahawks wideout Steve Largent (who torched the replacement Lions for 261 yards receiving in a single game), Raiders lineman Howie Long, and Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett followed suit, and the Players Association started to realize it was sunk. After 24 days of striking, the players returned to work.


Oddly, even after the strike ended, the replacement teams took the field one more time. The players ended their strike on a Thursday, only to be informed by the owners that they had missed the deadline for being eligible to play in Week 6 by one day. The real NFL squads returned to the field for Week 7.

So who won?

In the short term, the owners won a huge victory. The great Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated opened his article on the strike’s end by writing, “The NFL players association got hammered in its 24-day strike…” The players called off the strike and returned to work without a new collective bargaining agreement. They didn’t get the free agency concession they were looking for, either. In short, the whole episode was something of a debacle.

Eventually the players won a series of court battles that enabled them to snag free agency and a set share of league revenues. The players’ union, which had decertified after losing the strike, didn’t officially reform as a union until 1993.

The other winners were the Washington Redskins, who had an odd knack for winning the Super Bowl in abbreviated strike years. The Skins’ replacement team went 3-0, and when the big boys came back they hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, just as they had after the shortened 1982 season.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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