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12 Olympians Who Don't Keep Their Medals in a Sock Drawer

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What happens to all of the Olympic hardware once the last medal is awarded and the torch is extinguished? It depends on the Olympian—but a surprising number of medals find homes in sock and underwear drawers. Here are 12 winners who made a different choice.

1. CARL LEWIS: HIS FATHER'S CASKET

Nine-time gold medalist in track and field for the U.S.

At his father’s funeral in 1987, Lewis left the medal he won for the 100-meter in the casket with his dad. When his mother seemed shocked, Lewis told her that it was no big deal; he planned to get another one. He was right. At the Seoul Games in 1988, Lewis originally got the silver in the 100-meter but later claimed gold when Canadian Ben Johnson lost the medal for steroid use.

2. CHRISTIE RAMPONE: IN POTS AND PANS

Three-time gold medalist and former captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team

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Rampone (left) keeps her medals in a rather unorthodox place: in her pots and pans in the kitchen. “I figure, who’s going to look in the kitchen?” she said. She may move them now that the world knows her secret hiding place.

3. SHANNON MILLER: AROUND HER SON'S NECK

Winner of two gold, two silver, and three bronze medals for the 1992 and 1996 U.S. gymnastics teams

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While she keeps her medals in a safe deposit box most of the time, she admits that her son gets a kick out of donning them: “Rocco, my son, wears my gold medal around the house. He gives me the silver. I guess I know who's boss in our house.”

4. KIM RHODE: IN HER BACK POCKET

U.S. double trap and skeet shooter who has medaled in every Summer Olympics since 1996

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Back when she just had a couple of medals, Rhode liked to tote the hardware around with her. “A lot of times they’re with me or in my back pocket as I used to carry them when I was younger,” she said.

5. SHAUN WHITE: UNDER A BOOK AT HIS AGENT'S HOUSE

U.S. snowboarder and two-time gold medalist in the halfpipe

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Sure, he has 12 gold medals from the Winter X Games, but there’s something special about the Olympic golds. So special, in fact, that his mom had one of the medals dry cleaned after the ribbon became dirty from making the talk show rounds. Prior to that, the Flying Tomato left a medal with his agent—and sort of forgot about it. “I called my agent randomly and said, ‘Hey, you have my medal, right?’ He gasped—he said his heart just dropped. But he found it. It was in a dresser under a book in his house.”

6. BONNIE BLAIR: IN HER COFFEE TABLE

U.S. speed skater and five-time gold medalist

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Once you start racking up the medals, it gets slightly more challenging to display them. That wasn't a problem for Bonnie Blair, who had a coffee table custom-made in the shape of the Olympic rings to showcase them. "A very good friend made it for me. It's got a glass top. It's one of the most unique pieces of furniture I can imagine, and I can share it with anybody that comes to the house. It's very cool. It's something that I'm very proud of."

7. CAITLYN JENNER: WITH HER NAIL POLISH

Decathlon gold medalist for the U.S. in 1976

“Actually I looked the other day and the medal was in my nail drawer, with all my nail colors and everything,” Jenner recently told H&M.

8. AND 9. KRISTI YAMAGUCHI AND TARA LIPINSKI: THE WORLD FIGURE SKATING MUSEUM

Both won a gold medal for women’s single figure skating

“I have always been nervous of it getting lost, stolen or even damaged,” Yamaguchi has said. “It is made of Lalique crystal so it's beautiful but very fragile too. I prefer to keep it in one place so it lessens the chance of it getting damaged.”

10. LINDSEY VONN: HER NIGHTSTAND

U.S. Alpine ski racer and winner of one gold and one bronze medal
“ I keep my Olympic medals right by my bed, in my nightstand,” she wrote to a young fan. “I don’t take them out very often but sometimes if I’ve been having a bad day, I will take them out and remember the positives, remember that hard work pays off and that keeps me going.”

11. BOB SUTER: HIS SON'S SCHOOL LOCKER

Gold medalist and member of the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 U.S. hockey team
Ryan Suter took his father's hardware to show-and-tell at school every year—and it didn't always make it home. Sometimes it sat in his locker for weeks before making it back to the Olympian. "I didn't realize how special it was," Ryan said. Someday, Ryan can send his own medal to school with his kids—he won a silver with the U.S. hockey team at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

12. IAN THORPE: A BANK VAULT

Australian swimmer and nine-time medalist (five gold, three silver, and one bronze)
Ian Thorpe made waves at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney when he dominated the medal stand at just 17 years old. He left them in a bank vault—and didn't look at them for a decade, when he had a photo shoot to mark the 10-year anniversary of his achievements in Sydney.

THE SOCK DRAWER CLUB

Here’s a list of athletes who have admitted to keeping their medals tucked between balled-up socks at some point:

  • Apolo Anton Ohno, short track speed skating (two golds, two silver, four bronze)
  • Angela Ruggiero, women’s ice hockey (one gold, two silver, one bronze)
  • Susan Francia, rowing (two golds)
  • Jessica Mendoza, softball (one gold, one silver)
  • Henry Cejudo, freestyle wrestling (one gold)
  • Brenda Villa, water polo (two silver, one bronze)
  • Natalie Coughlin, swimming (three gold, four silver, five bronze)
  • Mary Lou Retton, gymnastics (one gold, two silver, two bronze)
  • Sue Bird, basketball (three gold)
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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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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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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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