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When an MLB Pitcher Threw a No-Hitter While Tripping on Acid

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On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis was unprepared to pitch against the San Diego Padres for one simple reason. He thought it was still June 11.

Number 17 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ellis had developed a reputation for brazen behavior. He liked to wear curlers in his hair because Major League Baseball management didn’t want him to. He was outspoken in matters of race, once remarking that managers would never allow “two brothers” to start in an all-star game. Jackie Robinson wrote him a letter encouraging his social consciousness while warning him that not everyone was going to like it.

Ellis was all right with that. He was a self-medicating athlete, popping stimulants before games and partying with cocaine and alcohol afterward. The substances either gave him an edge or took it off.

Playing on LSD wasn’t exactly part of the plan, but Ellis liked to work with what he had. Before the game in San Diego, Ellis had crashed in Los Angeles at the home of a friend, where he dropped tabs of acid. He woke to the sounds of the man’s girlfriend telling him he had to pitch that afternoon. He insisted the game was tomorrow. It was only when she showed him the sports page of the day's newspaper that he believed her. 

“What happened to yesterday?” he asked.

He caught a flight to San Diego, suited up, and in the clubhouse swallowed Benzedrines, a stimulant, to counter the effects of the LSD. Standing on the mound, he could barely identify the players in front of him. They were swinging bats, that much he knew, and sometimes they’d stand on the other side of home plate. Disoriented, he tried focusing on the reflective tape wrapped around the catcher’s fingers. One inning bled into the next. Everyone knew he was high on something. It wasn’t pretty—Ellis kept beaning batters and walking them—but pretty soon he realized he was looking at a no-hitter, or “no no.”  Even when the pitcher isn't tripping his face off, the chances of that are as low as 1 in 1,548 games.

The game might have seemed like hours, or seconds: Ellis would later say he lost all concept of time. But when it ended, the Padres hadn't been able to touch him. He had pitched a no-hitter on acid.

At first, Ellis was gleeful about the incident. He related the story to author Donald Hall, who was co-writing his autobiography, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, but was talked out of publishing it for fear it would blemish the League. (Instead, the book said he pitched the game while hungover.) As its legend grew, so did Ellis’s exaggeration of the feat. He recalled seeing Jimi Hendrix swinging at his pitches with a guitar and Richard Nixon standing behind home plate.  

It’s hard to know for certain what he actually experienced. LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a psychedelic drug that can cause a variety of sensations by stimulating serotonin receptors. Distorted senses, vivid colors, hallucinations, and emotional highs and lows are all common. Ellis recalled that when one batter hit the ball, he’d hopped out of the way, afraid of getting hit. In reality, the ball was a grounder rolling towards him in the grass.  

Whatever it was Ellis felt, he couldn’t have minded it too much. In a Jet magazine interview from 1984, he said he had dropped LSD before a game a second time in 1974 and wound up hitting multiple batters—including Pete Rose—on purpose. He claimed to not be sober for any of his games with the New York Yankees later that decade. (He returned to the Pirates before retiring from baseball in 1980.)

But as Ellis’s interest in drugs dwindled, he began to grow slightly more sheepish about the story. Before his death in 2008 from liver disease, he lectured wayward kids on the perils of substance abuse. He claimed he took drugs to numb the fear of failure. He could never quite shake the desire to amplify it, though. “I was as high as a Georgia pine,” he’d say. During those moments, it was hard to know whether Ellis was ashamed or proud of that evening. Either way, June 12, 1970 was a date he no longer had any problem remembering.

Additional Sources:
No No: A Dockumentary

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technology
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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Health
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.

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