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The mental_floss Guide to the NCAA Tournament: The Midwest

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

(1) North Carolina

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Yearning to learn more about your kidneys? Head to the University of North Carolina’s Carl W. Gottschalk Collection. The 12,400-item collection houses legendary medical professor Gottschalk’s passion: historical items related to the study of kidneys. Gottschalk’s medical research focused on the kidneys, and throughout his life he managed to collect texts, engravings, woodcuts, and other relics on the subject that dated back to the 16th century.

(16) Vermont
Vermont shares an uncommon nickname with Western Carolina University — the Catamounts. Another name for a wild cat, the catamount is the state animal and appears on the back of the 1927 Vermont commemorative half-dollar.

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(8) Creighton
The Creightones are a men's a cappella group at Creighton.

(9) Alabama
In 2010, an Alabama staffer was fired for playing “Take the Money and Run” on the football stadium PA system while Cam Newton and Auburn warmed up.
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(5) Temple
You know who met while attending Temple? Hall and Oates.

(12) South Florida
South Florida was the southernmost public university in the state when it was founded in 1956. Some of the other proposed names for the school included Citrus State University, Sunshine State University, and the University of the Western Hemisphere.
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(4) Michigan
All three crew members aboard the 1971 Apollo 15 mission to the moon had ties to the University of Michigan. They left a charter for a U of M Alumni Association branch on the lunar surface.

(13) Ohio
Ohio University has appeared on the Princeton Review’s list of the nation’s top party school 12 times since 1997 – including #1 on the most recent edition.
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(6) San Diego State
San Diego State established the first Women’s Studies department in the United States in 1970. The department granted its first degrees in the mid-1980s.

(11) North Carolina State
In North Carolina State’s “Krispy Kreme Challenge,” students meet at the Bell Tower on campus, run 2.5 miles to the Krispy Kreme, eat 12 doughnuts, and run back to the Bell Tower. This feat must be accomplished in one hour.
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(3) Georgetown
Georgetown is the setting of St. Elmo’s Fire, but the on-campus scenes of the 1985 Brat Pack film were filmed at the University of Maryland. Georgetown administrators reportedly wouldn’t allow Joel Schumacher to shoot on campus because they didn’t condone premarital sex. It should be noted that The Exorcist was shot in Georgetown in 1973.

(14) Belmont
Belmont is located in Nashville. The university owns and operates its own recording studios, which are used both by students and for profit. One, the well-known Ocean Way Nashville, has been utilized by artists that range (alphabetically and style-wise) from Alan Jackson to Yo-Yo Ma.
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(7) St. Mary's
In 1959, 22 students stuffed themselves in a phone booth and were featured in LIFE magazine. According to the school's director of media relations, the photo "evolved from a late 1950s international fad of telephone booth stuffings on college campuses."


(10) Purdue
Purdue would dominate a basketball game played on the moon. Twenty-two Purdue graduates, including Neil Armstrong, have been selected for space travel, and Purdue alumni have flown on nearly 40 percent of all human U.S. space flights.
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(2) Kansas
Though Dr. James Naismith invented basketball, he’s the only KU basketball coach in history with a losing record.


(15) Detroit
The University of Detroit-Mercy purchased a historic Detroit firehouse as a facility to hold free legal clinics.

(Eliminated in Round One) California
Cal boasts many famous alumni, including cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who graduated with a College of Mining degree in 1904. Goldberg designed sewers in San Francisco and worked as a sports cartoonist at the San Francisco Examiner before moving to New York in 1907.

(Eliminated in Round One) Lamar
Lamar originated as South Park Junior College in 1923. South Park graduate Otho Plummer won a contest to rename the school in 1932. His winning suggestion honored Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas.

See Also...

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

Your esteemed fact-finding crew: Jamie Spatola, Stacy Conradt, Ethan Trex, Colin Perkins, Scott Allen and Meg Evans. Enjoy the Tournament!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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