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11 Weird Minor League Baseball Team Names

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Minor League Baseball has been an American staple for over a century. Among the roughly 245 Minor League teams scattered across the nation, some have acquired rather unusual names. Here are 11 of the oddest.

1. The Lansing Lugnuts (A-League Affiliates of the Toronto Blue Jays)

“It was just corny enough to fall in love with,” said co-owner Tom Dickson on why he chose the moniker “Lugnuts” out of over 2000 suggested names when the team came to Lansing in the mid-'90s. “ I’ll take the praise or the blame.”

2. The Savannah Sand Gnats (A-League Affiliates of the New York Mets)

Savannah has enjoyed a long baseball history and the city proudly boasts the nation’s oldest active minor-league field; Grayson Park dates back to 1940. So why “Sand Gnats”? According to locals, the pesky insects are everywhere, so the name was a natural pick.

3. The Colorado Springs Sky Sox (Triple-A Affiliates of the Colorado Rockies)

Colorado Springs Conservatory

A now-defunct affiliate of the Chicago White Sox called themselves the “Colorado Springs Sky Sox” during the 1950s. When a new franchise was brought into town in 1988, the old name was revived, even though the team’s Major League affiliations had shifted.

4. The Vermont Lake Monsters (A-League Affiliates of the Oakland Athletics)

Donate Life VT

The Green Mountain State’s only professional baseball team was named in honor of “Champ,” the mysterious creature which allegedly stalks Lake Champlain.

5. The Modesto Nuts (A-League Affiliates of the Colorado Rockies)

A “re-name the team” contest was held in 2005 and, presumably to honor the region’s agricultural roots, the city chose “The Modesto Nuts,” an option which claimed 52 percent of the vote.

6. The Montgomery Biscuits (Double-A Affiliates of the Tampa Bay Rays)

According to team general manager Marla Terranova-Vickers, “A native of Montgomery, Tripp Vickers, submitted the name ‘Biscuits’ and we fell in love with it. Not only was it representative of the region, but it was campy, quirky, and playful.”

7. The Brevard County Manatees (A-Advanced Affiliates of the Milwaukee Brewers)

Named for Florida’s beloved (and endangered) sea cows, the team is also known for their similarly-endearing mascot, Manny the Manatee, who is apparently an excellent dancer:

8. The Asheville Tourists (A-League Affiliates of the Colorado Rockies)

Asheville, North Carolina is not widely regarded as the global mecca of tourism. Yet the name “Tourists” was coined for another local pro ball club in 1925. Though that original team has long since moved on, the name’s become ingrained into the region’s identity. According to assistant General Manager Chris Smith, “We have ‘Visitors’ [written on the scoreboard] and right underneath it, it says ‘Tourists’… people get a kick out of that.”

9. The Las Vegas 51s (Triple-A Affiliates of the New York Mets)
A baseball team named after Area 51? Believe it. The organization formerly referred to itself as “The Stars” before turning in a decisively alien direction back in 2000.

10. The Richmond Flying Squirrels (Double-A Affiliates of the San Francisco Giants)
The fruit of yet another “name-the-team” contest, the “Flying Squirrels” beat out the “Hambones,” “Rock Hoppers,” and “Flatheads."

11. The Albuquerque Isotopes (Triple-A Affiliates of the Los Angeles Dodgers)

Where did a name as bizarre as “The Isotopes” come from? The Simpsons. A 2001 episode titled “Hungry, Hungry Homer” followed the series’ bumbling protagonist in his attempt to prevent the Springfield Isotopes from relocating to Albuquerque. It turns out that New Mexicans were delighted by the name and, when the state’s largest city landed a new minor league team in real life two years later, “Isotopes” was overwhelmingly elected as its official moniker. To show its gratitude, the organization has since placed life-sized statues of Homer and Marge Simpson in Isotopes Park.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.