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Babe Ruth's Final Years

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George Herman "Babe" Ruth was, in pretty much everyone's opinion, the most popular and beloved baseball player of all time.

Ruth played 22 years in the major leagues, hitting 714 home runs, winning seven World Series, and becoming baseball's greatest legend. But by 1936, the Babe was retired at age 41. He was an inhabitant of that strange twilight, the twilight for men who had accomplished all they can early in life.

The Babe's final years, although dotted with happy moments, were mainly a lonely time.

Waiting for the call that never came

Ruth wanted desperately to become a manager; unfortunately, no one was interested. He was offered a minor league job managing a Yankee farm team in Newark, but he turned it down: "I'm a big leaguer!" According to his wife, Claire, the Babe never stopped waiting and watching and hoping for the phone to ring with a call for that managing offer he wanted so badly.

Filling the time

A wealthy man with no financial worries, Ruth spent the final 13 years of his life basically filling in the hours, with no goal or purpose to speak of. And so he fished. His daughter Dorothy (at left, as a child) fondly remembers her dad going off for 3 or 4 days on a "fishing expedition," but catching nothing. Stopping at some market on the way home, he bought a batch of fish; upon arriving home, he slapped the fish on their kitchen counter as if he were an ace fisherman.

Ruth enjoyed hunting as well, and his daughter remembers him waking her up early in the morning and cooking her a special egg-and-toast creation before he left with his hunting rifle.

He bowled too, and was a good, if not great, bowler, with a 177 average. Ruth would check into a local bowling alley at 1 p.m. and leave promptly at 5 p.m. He bowled alone, preferring not to keep score, but instead liked adding up the "total pins" he had knocked down. ("I knocked down 7,000 pins in five weeks.")

Ruth was also an avid golfer -- "I played 365 rounds of golf last year. Thank God for whoever invented golf. I'd be dead without it."

At left, Babe Ruth with former NY Gov. Al Smith at the Biltmore Hotel and Country Club in Coral Gables, FL (1930). Photo from the Florida Memory Project at the State Archives of Florida.

He enjoyed listening to the radio, especially tuning into his beloved The Lone Ranger. Ruth, along with millions of other Americans, listened to Orson Welles' legendary War of the Worlds broadcast and bought into it. "Hide under the bed!" he yelled to his wife and daughters as he nervously looked out the curtains of their Riverside Drive apartment.

He liked his booze, drinking his beloved highballs among other alcoholic treats. He still followed baseball, of course, and had a lifetime free pass to ballgames.

Appreciating the ladies

A notorious ladies' man, Babe Ruth never got women out of his mind.

After spending a day golfing with his pal Buzzie Bavasi at the all-male St. Andrews Golf Club, Ruth told him, "Buzzie, thanks for a wonderful day, you have a great golf club here, but it's not for me. No broads."

The Ruths traveled often to foreign countries; after visiting the island of Bali, Ruth remarked that he didn't like the Balinese women: "They're too dark and their breasts are too big."

Coping with sad times

Anyone, even in the most secure of circumstances, will be faced with some sadness, and Babe Ruth was no exception.

Claire's brother Eugene, who had been gassed in World War I and had never been healthy since, jumped from the Ruths' 15th story window to his death after a battle with severe depression. Ruth rushed home from his vacation in Florida to take care of all the funeral arrangements.

In 1938, Ruth's daughter Julia was in medical trouble with strep throat. Her father rushed to the hospital and donated blood to help.

The same year, Ruth was hired for his last official baseball job, as a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Babe was mostly looked on as a "gate attraction" and a curiosity. He still harbored a secret hope to be hired as the manager of the team, but when the season ended the job went to Leo Durocher (whom Ruth hated) instead. Ruth left the Dodgers bitterly disappointed.

At left, Babe Ruth in uniform for the Dodgers.

Probably bored and frustrated, Ruth swallowed his pride and asked Yankee management about the long ago offer to manage the minor league Newark club. But no, it was too late, and the offer was no longer available.

Winding down

Soon after the end of the war, Ruth began getting severe headaches and pains in his neck, and went to the hospital for observation. According to daughter Dorothy, the headaches were so severe "he threatened to kill himself."

Ruth was diagnosed with throat cancer, although he was not told of the diagnosis. Sadly, he was never to be out of pain for the final 21 months of his life.

He dictated a "sugar-coated" version of his life to author Bob Considine, and his official memoir The Babe Ruth Story was published. (Of course, it omits the countless hookers and numerous affairs of the previous 25 years.) At an autograph-signing reception for the book, Ernest Hemingway stood in line to meet the Babe and get his signature.

Babe Ruth made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium on June 26, 1948.

His old number 3 uniform hung limply on his body, now ravaged by cancer. Ruth croaked out a hoarse, raspy speech of gratitude to the packed house and shuffled off. The crowd of 58,339 gave him a standing ovation.

Bob Feller, the Cleveland pitcher that day, remembers letting Ruth use his bat to lean on like a cane.

Ruth spent his last days in the hospital. He received the new treatment, chemotherapy, and various other experimental treatments. Gifts and mail flooded in from all quarters. Toward the end, Ruth pinned a medal he received in the mail on his pajamas.

When famed manager Connie Mack came to visit, Ruth told him, "The termites have got me, Mr. Mack."

One nebulous, but interesting, hospital visitor was a "tall, striking redhead" named Loretta. She claimed she had been Ruth's girlfriend for the previous 10 years. Knowing the Babe, she was probably telling the truth.

On August 16, 1948, Ruth said his prayers and passed away quietly in his sleep.

The Ruth family grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery (Hawthorne, NY). Photo by Wikimedia user Anthony 22.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]