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The mental_floss Guide to the NCAA Tournament: The East

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We're going region by region, giving you one fun fact about each team in the tournament.

(1) Syracuse

Syracuse’s colors were originally pink and blue, but the class of 1890 changed it to orange. A member of that class explained the switch at his 50th reunion in 1940: "What kind of 'whoopee' can be made with pink and blue, the pale kind you use on babies' what-do-you-call-thems? It just couldn't be done!" (Note: The Syracuse University Archives say pink and blue. Student Affairs mentions a pink/pea green combo.)

(16) UNC-Asheville
The school's mascot was originally called Puck, after the character in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The bulldog was later known as Chug-a-Lug, and then Winston (for Winston Churchill's bulldog jowls). In 1995, the athletic department held a contest to name the dog, and the winning entry was "Rocky"—a tribute to Rocky Balboa.

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(8) Kansas State
Dwight D. Eisenhower’s brother Milton was the president of Kansas State from 1943 to 1950.

(9) Southern Miss
In 1940, Southern Mississippi voted to change its name to “The Confederates,” though they changed it to “The Southerners” a year later. Their mascot was General Nat, named after Confederate leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. They adopted the current Golden Eagles name in 1972.
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(5) Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt was endowed in 1873 when Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt donated $1 million to build a university in the South. His purpose was "to contribute to strengthening the ties which should exist between all of our common country."

(12) Harvard
Besides Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, other famous Harvard dropouts include Robert Frost, Matt Damon, William Randolph Hearst, and Pete Seeger.
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(4) Wisconsin
The Onion was started in 1988 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by a pair of third-year undergraduates. The name may have derived from the fact that the founders were so poor, they resorted to eating onion sandwiches.

(13) Montana
Rolling Stone magazine declared that Montana had the “most scenic campus in America.”
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(6) Cincinnati
Joseph Strauss fell in love with bridges while a student at Cincinnati. Years later, as the chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge, Strauss placed a brick from a demolished UC campus building inside the bridge’s south anchorage.

(11) Texas
Texas has its share of famous dropouts, too, including Michael Dell, David Geffen, Farrah Fawcett, and Janis Joplin.
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(3) Florida State
If you feel drawn to Florida State when applying to colleges or filling out your bracket, there may be a scientific explanation. FSU is home of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory which houses the world’s most powerful magnets.

(14) St. Bonaventure
St. Bonaventure is named after—you guessed it—a Catholic saint named Bonaventure. Born John of Fidanza, Bonaventure got his new name when, as a sick child, Francis of Assisi prayed with his mother for healing, crying “O Buona Ventura!” (“Oh, good fortune!”) with regard to the child’s promising future.
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(7) Gonzaga
Gonzaga awarded Bing Crosby an honorary degree in 1936. The singer and actor had studied law at the Spokane school before dropping out to pursue a music career.

(10) West Virginia
Students at West Virginia celebrate the university’s Appalachian heritage during “Mountaineer Week.” And since 1949, many have celebrated by participating in a beard-growing contest. The contest begins and ends with a group shave, the latter taking place in front of the panel of judges who then determine the winner.
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(2) Ohio State
OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library is “the largest and most comprehensive academic research facility documenting printed cartoon art.” The current holdings include more than 450,000 original cartoons and over 2.5 million comic strip clippings.

(15) Loyola Maryland
Loyola's alumni include Mark Bowden, who wrote Black Hawk Down, and Tom Clancy, author of The Hunt for Red October and The Sum of All Fears.

See Also...

The mental_floss Guide to the NCAA Tournament: The West, The South

Your esteemed fact-finding crew: Jamie Spatola, Stacy Conradt, Ethan Trex, Colin Perkins, Scott Allen and Meg Evans. They'll be back with another region this afternoon.

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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
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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
June 21, 2017
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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