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Watch Every Episode of Home Run Derby (1960)

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“Well, gentlemen, today you’re going to go up for the big money. The winner will receive $2,000. The loser, $1,000.”

The Major League Baseball All-Star break has arrived, and with it comes tonight’s Home Run Derby, where the game’s top sluggers pepper the host stadium’s outfield seats with a barrage of skyscraping blasts. If you’re anxiously awaiting tonight’s event, you really should know more about the TV show that inspired it.

Back in 1960, Home Run Derby was a syndicated TV show that aired for a single season and featured some of baseball’s most iconic players (Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron) competing to win “big money” by battling through a 9-inning contest.

Here's each matchup, with the first four episodes (head over to Hulu for the rest of the series).

Episode #1: Mickey Mantle 9, Willie Mays 8

Episode #2: Mickey Mantle 5, Ernie Banks 3

Episode #3: Mickey Mantle 9, Jackie Jensen 2

Episode #4: Harmon Killebrew 9, Mickey Mantle 8

Episode #5: Harmon Killebrew 6, Rocky Colavito 5

Episode #6: Ken Boyer 3, Harmon Killebrew 2

Episode #7: Hank Aaron 9, Ken Boyer 6

Episode #8: Hank Aaron 6, Jim Lemon 4

Episode #9: Hank Aaron 4, Eddie Mathews 3

Episode #10: Hank Aaron 5, Al Kaline 1

Episode #11: Hank Aaron 3, Duke Snider 1

Episode #12: Hank Aaron 3, Bob Allison 2

Episode #13: Wally Post 7, Hank Aaron 4

Episode #14: Dick Stuart 11, Wally Post 9

Episode #15: Dick Stuart 7, Gus Triandos 1

Episode #16: Frank Robinson 6, Dick Stuart 3

Episode #17: Bob Cerv 8, Frank Robinson 7

Episode #18: Bob Allison 4, Bob Cerv 3

Episode #19: Willie Mays 11, Bob Allison 3

Episode #20: Willie Mays 7, Harmon Killebrew 6

Episode #21: Willie Mays 6, Jim Lemon 3

Episode #22: Gil Hodges 6, Willie Mays 3

Episode #23: Ernie Banks 11, Gil Hodges 7

Episode #24: Jackie Jensen 14, Ernie Banks 11

Episode #25: Jackie Jensen 3, Rocky Colavito 2

Episode #26: Mickey Mantle 13, Jackie Jensen 10

Go watch them all here.

Host Mark Scott died of a heart attack after the first season of Home Run Derby, and that was that.

One last note on that prize structure: as a frame of reference, this year’s highest paid major leaguer is Alex Rodriguez, whose $29 million salary equates to $179,012 for every game in the 162-game season. That also works out to $6,630 A-Rod “earns” for every one of the standard 27 outs in each of his team’s 162-games. And keep in mind that he’s collecting this princely sum even though he has yet to play in a single game this season due to injury.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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May 23, 2017
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