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How Much Do Professional Sports Commissioners Make?

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During tonight’s NBA draft, commissioner David Stern has been shaking hands with the league’s newest crop of rookies, welcoming them into a life of luxury and a potential lockout. If there is a work stoppage, Stern will manage just fine financially. Here’s the scoop on what he and the other major pro sports commissioners earn annually.

David Stern (NBA)

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The NBA doesn’t claim tax-exempt status, so Stern’s salary, which is paid collectively by the league’s owners, isn’t public information. Most reports speculate that he makes around $10 million a year, though the New York Daily News cited anonymous “league spies” who revealed that Stern made a whopping $23 million in 2010. In 1990, Stern’s reported salary of $3.5 million was more than the salaries of the commissioners in the other three major professional sports combined. Stern didn’t take a salary during the NBA’s 1999 lockout and he has said he will do the same if the players are locked out when the league’s collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30.

Bud Selig (MLB)

In 2009, ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt said he choked on his vomit when he heard how much the MLB commissioner made.

Van Pelt would later apologize, though Selig had a few million reasons not to be offended. The Sports Business Daily reported that Selig made $18.35 million in 2007, including a $17.5 million base salary, which is the highest salary among the major pro sports commissioners (assuming Stern makes closer to $10 million than $23 million). Selig’s current salary is reportedly just shy of $19 million. In fairness, that’s about the same amount that Giants pitcher Barry Zito will make this year.

Roger Goodell (NFL)

The NFL commissioner cut his salary to $1 at the start of the league’s work stoppage, but you shouldn’t feel too badly for him. Citing the NFL’s tax return, the Sports Business Journal reported in January that Goodell earned $9.89 million in 2010. Interestingly, that made him only the third-highest paid NFL executive. NFL Network head Steve Bornstein and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue earned $12.65 million and $12.51 million, respectively. The majority of Tagliabue’s income was from retirement and deferred pay.

Gary Bettman (NHL)

According to the Sports Business Journal, the NHL commissioner made $7.2 million during the 2008-09 season, which was an increase of 1.7% from the previous year and up from the $5.9 million he earned in 2005-06. Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, who both earned roughly $9 million last season, are among the 20 or so players who earn at least as much as Bettman.

A Couple of Other Commissioners

• MLS Commissioner Don Garber agreed to a contract extension through 2014 that is believed to pay him about $3 million per year.

• PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem earns roughly $5 million annually with the majority of that total coming in the form of performance bonuses.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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iStock
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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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