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The Best and Worst Minor League Stadium Promotions

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The Peoria Chiefs, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, joined the list of LeBron James' bashers when it staged a "LeBron James NBA Championship Replica Ring Giveaway" after the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat for the NBA title.


There was no ring, of course.


The Chiefs claimed to explore the possibility of skipping the fourth inning to mirror James' disappearing act in the fourth quarters against Dallas.

Minor league baseball promotions are almost always creative. Many times they're hilarious. But this one didn't even rank with the best of the LeBron James Nights let alone make my Top 10 list.

Why?

Well, if you're an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, who last won the World Series 102 years ago and pretty much own a trademark on the terms "Lovable Losers" and "June Swoon," you might want to think twice about making fun of somebody for not winning it all at age 26.

There's a fine line between promotions that work and promotions that reach too far. Three quick examples of the latter:

Ted Williams Popsicle Night

After the story broke in 2002 about the son of the great Boston slugger having his father's body cryogenically frozen in Arizona, the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings gave popsicles to the first 500 fans in a 2003 game.

Salute to Indoor Plumbing Night

The West Virginia Power had this idea to close the regular bathrooms and have fans use portable toilets to aid in the appreciation of indoor plumbing. The Health Department nixed it. But the promotion went on, complete with a version of a team's regular Hamburger Helper skillet toss.

"We took some brownies and mushed them up and made them look like poo," promotions director Kristin Call told the Washington Post. "It was a poo toss that night."

Michael Jordan Impostor Night

It wasn't billed that way.

The Utah Flash of the NBA Developmental League promoted a one-on-one grduge match between Michael Jordan and former Jazz player Byron Russell.

Jordan had trash-talked Russell at Jordan's Hall of Fame induction. Russell challenged him to a game of one-on-one with the winner's pot ($100,000) going to charity.

Except Jordan never responded and Flash owner Brandt Anderson continued the charade anyway by trotting out a Jordan look-alike. You can guess how that went over. Anderson had to refund people's money.

The best of minor league promotions are funny. At the very least they should do no harm.

(And, of course, since I'm from Cleveland and it's my list, at least one should poke at LeBron James)

10. 1K Backwards Race
The Charleston RiverDogs raised money for charity by holding a backwards race around the warning track (three laps). Who could be expected to cover .62 miles without an aid station? The RiverDogs set up a beer "hydration" stand at the halfway point. Prizes were awarded to the most leisurely competitor and the one with the biggest beer belly.

9. Salute to Cows
The minor-league baseball Wisconsin Timber Rattlers staged several contests, including a mooing competition. A lucky fan received a year's supply of cheese curds. The video board headshots of Timber Rattlers' players? Yep. All sported milk mustaches.

8. Billy Donovan Night
The Fort Myers Miracle had fun with University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan leaving the school to coach the Orlando Magic, then reversing his decision. The Miracle served waffles. Fans could get their ticket money back if they didn't feel sufficiently entertained, but only after negotiating a deal with a local lawyer that included having to make a free throw. Somebody named Billy Donovan was asked to throw out the first pitch but changed his mind and didn't show.

7. Rod Blagojevich Prison Jersey Night
This one came from the world of minor league hockey. The Las Vegas Wranglers wore gray and black prison striped jerseys with "ILLGOV" on them. The opponent, the Bakersfield Condors, wore orange prison garb. There were bars on the penalty box. My favorite part: The referees wore blue prison guard uniforms.

Footnote: In a 2006 game, the Wranglers held Dick Cheney Hunting Vest Night.

6. 50th Anniversary Salute to Bubble Wrap
The Lowell (Ma.) Spinners handed out squares of Bubble Wrap and asked fans to simultaneously pop it in the third inning. The 3,692 squares of popped Bubble Wrap wasn't recognized as a world record, but Guinness did recognize the Spinners-sponsored world's largest game of "Duck, Duck, Goose" held in 2004 when 432 people participated.

5. Circle of Life Weekend
Quad Cities covered birth (a night for expectant mothers), school (a one-year scholarship to the University of Iowa), marriage (an all-expenses paid wedding) and death (an all-expenses paid funeral) in one long weekend of baseball.

There were on-site Lamaze classes and concession stands stocked with things pregnant ladies crave.

"We want our fans to know that cradle to grave the River Bandits have you covered," Quad Cities owner Dave Heller said in a press release.

4. Backstabbers Night
The Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets held a LeBron James roast 10 days after he announced via "The Decision" on ESPN that he was leaving the area where he grew up to join the Miami Heat.

Anyone with a Ohio driver's license got in free. They got a seat in a section staffed by a grief counselor.

James was inducted in the Backstabbers Hall of Fame, joining Brutus, Judas, Benedict Arnold, football coach Nick Saban and others.

Baby back ribs were for sale in the concession stands. Manager Dave Machemer announced on live TV where he was going to dinner that night.

3. Redundancy Night
The Altoona Curve has paid tribute over the years to Brett Favre's retirement pledges, Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl wins, vagabond coach Larry Brown's introductory press conferences and the string of non-title seasons for Cleveland sports teams.

Identical twins get in free. So do people from New York, NY, Jersey City, NJ, Kansas City, KS and Virginia Beach, Va. And people with similar sounding first and last names. "That goes for you, Dave Davies," the press release reads.

Everything is announced twice, including players coming up to bat.

2. Spam Carving Night
The Reading Phillies raise money for charity with a competition for closet spam carvers (you know who you are).

Knives and toothpicks are supplied, though contestants can bring their own carving tools. (We pause here to consider a team on a long losing streak watching fans file into the park hoisting knives and chainsaws.)

A 2009 entry -- Demon Dog -- looks like an alien Schnauzer.

The team's press release says "exposure to elements will quickly transform Spam's appealing pink-tinged luster to a distressingly monochrome shade of brown."

Don't get them wrong. It looks like a Rodin sculpture compared to what the West Virginia Power have cooking in their skillets.

1. Awful Night
The Altoona Curve give an awful promotional item (a noisemaker for instance) to the first 1,000 fans.

Awful Nights -- yes, plural -- have included bottomless cups, music from David Hasselhoff and William Shatner, a helium balloon toss, a Dry Water Slide Contest, a non-celebrity autograph session and clips from Ben Affleck movies.

There is a fireworks display. On the video board.

In a 2004 game, the Curve players got in the spirit of the evening by giving up five runs in the top of the ninth and losing to the Akron Aeros.

Not on purpose apparently.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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