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9 More Alternate March Madness Tournaments

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While the NCAA basketball tournament is eliminating your favorite teams left and right, you might be discouraged enough to turn away from sports and try something different. There are plenty of online brackets to fill out, as we found out Tuesday. Here are several more brackets you can enjoy that have nothing to do with basketball.

1. Alternative Brackets

SB Nation is a sports site, but even it offers non-basketball brackets this year. They began their “alternative brackets” earlier this week with a tournament of fruits and vegetables, which ended with broccoli as the winner. The Nic Cage Tournament ended last night, with his movie Face/Off as the champion. Today, the tournament is The Worst Places to Buy Clothes. Fill out the bracket for your chance to win prizes. But hurry! The tournament will change tomorrow to Condiments, then Towns of Repute, Dad Things, and Dinosaurs. Each bracket is a separate sweepstakes.

2. March Madne$$

The Awl presents a bracket that’s just a little different. It’s like the NCAA bracket; in fact, it has the same schools in the first round. But this is a tuition bracket. In each matchup, the school with the higher tuition advances, so the whole thing is already filled out. The winner? George Washington University, with an annual tuition of $47,290. And I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count room and board, because my daughters have already gotten estimates from some of these schools. The differences between the 64 schools are startling.

3. Metrics Mania

Along the same lines of comparing the 64 schools of the NCAA tournament on something besides basketball performance, the Thomson Reuters Company presents Metrics Mania. The point is to guess which schools have the most research impact on science and technology. You are invited to fill out the bracket, in which each round will look at a different parameter. First and second rounds: which school in each matchup is cited more in scientific publications. In the third and fourth rounds, which school has the higher percentage of their studies cited. The ten participants with the most accurate brackets will receive gift cards.

4. Name of the Year

A very popular tournament that sometimes veers from the standard March calendar is The Name of the Year. It also is sometimes hard to find due to the habit of changing websites. I was under the impression that they had quit the annual tournament, but according to their Twitter account, there will be a 2014 tournament; it’s just not ready yet. If it goes live before April, I will post an update here.

5. Taco Madness

Groupon and L.A. Taco present Taco Madness 2014! Vote to determine the best taco outlet in the Los Angeles area. Remember, it’s not fair to vote if you’ve never eaten a taco in Los Angeles. The tournament will end with a party at Grand Park on April 5th, with samples from different eateries and live music.

6. Drugs vs. Alcohol

Jezebel has a Drugs vs. Alcohol tournament bracket in which the four regions are illegal drugs, legal drugs, alcohol, and “soft stuff.” I guess that means everything else. Today's open round of voting can be found here, in which mushrooms are pitted against opium, PCP battles LSD, Prozac is matched against Sizzurp, and Viagra battles Valium. In the alcohol region, Jungle Juice is up against Vodka tampon, and Long Island Iced Tea competes with Scotch. And there are more matchups. Keep up with the later rounds here

7. Public Media Madness

Which is better, PBS or NPR? Public TV and radio personalities go head-to-head in the Public Media Madness tournament. Voting in round four begins tonight at midnight, as soon as the round three winners are announced.

The big question is, did Neil deGrasse Tyson beat the Dowager Countess? We’ll have to wait to find out!

8. American Jesus Madness

The American Jesus is a website by divinity student Zach Hunt. It is devoted to examining the strange ways Americans interpret Christianity. In that vein, he launched the American Jesus Madness Tournament. After two rounds, the voting is down to the ”Exquisite Eight.” The winners will move on to the “4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse” round. Will Jim Caviezel's portrayal of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ defeat Willem Dafoe’s in The Last Temptation of Christ? The other matchups I am less familiar with.

9. Disney Parks Attractions

Disney presents March Magic, a tournament of Disney Park Attractions. See the full bracket here, as well as sports-type logos for all the competitors. Voting takes place on two Facebook pages: Walt Disney World for the East Coast half, and Disneyland for the West Coast matchups. Leave a comment under the daily matchups at each site. The final vote between the two coasts will be on April 7th.

See more current alternative tournaments in our earlier post. This list was constructed with the help of Metafilter

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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