CLOSE
Original image
Library of Congress

The Time Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football

Original image
Library of Congress

by Greg Volk

After 18 players died on the field, the president decided it was time to change the game.

During the late 1870s, American “foot ball” resembled a combination of soccer and rugby with a riot mob mentality. Almost anything went: Players could carry the ball, kick it, or pass it backward. Starting in 1880, Walter Camp, a Yale player now known as the father of American football, introduced a series of changes to make the game more strategic. Unfortunately, some ended up making the game more dangerous. The most infamous example was Harvard’s “Flying Wedge,” inspired by Napoleonic war tactics: Offensive players assumed a V-shaped formation behind the line of scrimmage, then converged en masse on a single defensive lineman. “Think of it—half a ton of bone and muscle coming into collision with a man weighing 160 or 170 pounds,” wrote The New York Times in 1892.

Within a few years, the Wedge was abolished, but the introduction of nose guards and flimsy leather helmets—both of which were optional—created illusions of safety that encouraged even more violent plays. The crowds ate it up—by the early 1890s, 40,000 fans attended the biggest games. But criticism, too, was growing. Charles Eliot, president of Harvard, became the unofficial leader of the anti-football movement. By 1895, he was calling for an outright ban.

Football did have one towering supporter on its side, though: Teddy Roosevelt, a Harvard grad whom Eliot had once called “feeble.” Roosevelt espoused “muscular Christianity,” a belief that the path to a stronger spirit was a stronger body. Though he never played the game, partially due to his reliance on glasses, Roosevelt was a devoted fan.

In 1905, before the season began, McClure’s Magazine published a scathing, scandal-packed exposé: allegations of paid recruits, players who weren’t students lining up on the field, and the organized takeout of a black player during a game. One university official called it a “boy-killing, man-mutilating, money-making, education-prostituting, gladiatorial sport.” And he was right: The 1905 season turned into what the Chicago Tribune labeled a “death harvest.” Eighteen players died. Another 137 were seriously injured. Roosevelt’s son, Teddy Roosevelt Jr., broke his nose in the Harvard-Yale junior varsity game. Universities across the country, from Columbia to Stanford, started banning the sport. It looked as though football was doomed.

New Rules

Then Roosevelt stepped in. On October 9, the president summoned some of the game’s most powerful figures, including Walter Camp and John E. Owsley of Yale, Princeton’s Arthur Hillebrand, and Harvard’s William T. Reid for a closed-door meeting at the White House. “Football is on trial,” he declared. Then he tasked the decision makers with changing the sport to keep it alive. After several heated rounds of meetings, in early 1906 the committee announced new rules: First downs now required 10 yards instead of five, what ultimately became a one-yard neutral zone between teams was mandated at the line of scrimmage, and yardage penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct were instituted. But the most impactful change—ironically, one that Camp himself vehemently opposed—was the introduction of the forward pass, a mainstay of modern football.

Fans embraced the changes, if mainly because they stopped the game from getting banned. And though football remained dangerous, the group succeeded in creating a version that drastically reduced fatalities and serious injuries for the 1906 season. In the end, Roosevelt’s play turned football into the most popular sport in the United States. And the men who met in the White House? They became the NCAA.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Now go download our new iPad app! Or get a free issue of mental_floss magazine via mail.

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