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A Brief History of the Super Bowl Broadcast

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© Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis

Sunday will mark the 17th time that NBC has broadcast the Super Bowl, tying it with CBS for the most in NFL history. Here’s a brief history of the Super Bowl on TV.

The AFL-NFL World Championship Game Simulcast

In 1967, NBC and CBS simulcast the first Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers, which was then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. NBC and CBS used the same video feed, but different announcers. NBC was still in commercial when the second half kicked off, leading the referee to blow the ball dead while it was in the air. The Packers were asked to kick off again. The simulcast marked the last time that an NFL game was televised on two networks until December 2007, when the league allowed NBC and CBS to show the New England Patriots’ bid to complete a perfect regular season against the New York Giants.

Going Global

The first Super Bowl was broadcast on two networks, but in only one language. Sunday’s game will be shown in more than 180 countries and in 30 different languages.

According to David Tossell, director of public affairs for NFL International, 15 foreign crews are in Indianapolis to broadcast the game. “That’s a big increase over the last few years,” Tossell said. SiriusXM radio will offer 12 different live broadcasts in eight languages, including English, Spanish, French, Japanese, German, Flemish, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese. Super Bowl XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers marked the first time that the game was broadcast in the Navajo language. Former Eagles tight end Chad Lewis, worked as a color analyst for CCTV, a Chinese network, during Super Bowl XXXVIII. Lewis, who played college football at BYU, became fluent in Mandarin while on a Mormon mission to China.

What’s a Super Bowl Broadcast Worth?

Super Bowls regularly rank among the most-watched primetime programs. In fact, the past four Super Bowls rank as four of the five most-watched broadcasts in U.S. history, with the M*A*S*H finale from 1983 now ranked No. 3. More than 110 million people are expected to watch Sunday’s game. According to Forbes, the price of a Super Bowl ad has increased by 5.7% annually over the last 14 years and the average 30-second spot this year cost $3.5 million. (A 30-second spot during Super Bowl I cost $42,000, or roughly $280,000 when controlling for inflation). While NBC will use some Super Bowl ad space to promote its own shows, it should bring in more than $250 million in advertising revenue this year. Given the number of viewers, many analysts consider Super Bowl spots a bargain for advertisers.

Rotating System

From 1968 through 1984, NBC and CBS alternated the rights to the Super bowl. ABC got into the mix in 1985, and garnered buzz leading up to the game by shaking up its announcing assignments. For its Super Bowl debut, ABC bumped O.J. Simpson from the broadcast booth to a studio analyst gig in favor of Joe Theismann, who provided color commentary along with Don Meredith. Frank Gifford handled the play-by-play duties. Fox broadcast its first Super Bowl in 1997 with the familiar team of Pat Summerall and John Madden in the booth. ABC last had the Super Bowl’s broadcast rights in 2006. Since then, the rights have rotated among CBS, Fox, and NBC. Those three networks recently extended their TV deals with the NFL through the 2022 season, with the total combined annual rights fees totaling around $3 billion.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]