CLOSE
Original image

No Thanks: Why Denver Turned Down the '76 Olympics

Original image

Successfully snagging hosting duties for the Olympic Games is one of the toughest things a city can do. Chicago spent nearly $50 million on a bid for the 2016 Summer Games, and even that eight-figure budget couldn't grab the rings. Of course, that $50 million pales in comparison to the cost of actually hosting the Games, which run into the billions for construction and operating expenses.

Still, even though the Olympics are expensive and have a debatable long-term effect on a city's economy, many places are dying to get them. After all, what could be cooler than spending two weeks as the center of the world's attention? But if you lived in Denver in the 1970s, your answer would have been "all kinds of things."

In May 1970 the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics to Denver, which edged out Sion, Switzerland, Tampere, Finland, and Vancouver. Denver's politicians and media rejoiced; getting the Games was a major coup for them. Colorado had been trying to nab the Winter Olympics for nearly 20 years.

The Opposition

Denverites and their fellow Coloradoans, on the other hand, were less than thrilled. They quickly realized that hosting the Olympics is a really, really pricey venture and that the cash to cover infrastructure costs would likely be coming from their paychecks. On top of that, the environmentally conscious populace worried about the impact of bringing thousands of people into proposed Olympic venues that stretched over 150 miles from Denver to Steamboat.

nixon-olympicsBy 1972, a charismatic young politician named Dick Lamm had begun publicly opposing the Denver Games, and he soon became the torchbearer for the no-Olympics-in-Denver movement. This strong opposition put Denver's hosting committee in a delicate situation. The IOC had long asserted that it wouldn't hold the games in Denver unless public money was available to help foot the bill, so unless the people of Colorado would change their minds, the Olympics were going elsewhere.

It sounds like an almost trivial amount of money now, but Denver ultimately ended up losing the Games over $5 million. In November 1972, the state's voters weighed in on whether they would authorize a $5 million bond issue to help finance the Games. There was only one problem with this $5 million estimate: it was probably far too low. Even then, hosting the Olympics was wildly expensive, and previous host cities had ended up shelling out several times more money than they thought would be necessary to run the games.

What happened? The voters didn't just shoot down the bond issue; they overwhelmingly rejected it by a nearly 60-40 margin. A week after the vote, Denver officially relinquished its status as host city.

innsbruck
Now it was the IOC that found itself in a sticky situation. It needed a new venue for the 1976 Games, and it only had a little over three years to pick a city and get its infrastructure up to speed. The IOC offered Whistler the first crack at the Games, but the Canadians graciously declined. Salt Lake City offered up its hosting services, but the IOC wasn't going to fall for Americans' tricks twice in a row. Eventually, Innsbruck, Austria, stepped in as host. Innsbruck had hosted the 1964 Games, so it could handle the fast turnaround.

Second Thoughts?

Don't think Denverites hate the Olympics, though. The city actually expressed interest in making a bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. The U.S. Olympic Committee turned the city down, though, so it could focus on Chicago's failed bid for the 2016 Games. Many local politicians and athletes blamed the city bailing on the 1976 Games for the USOC's lack of enthusiasm for a 2018 bid.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES