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21 Super Facts About the Denver Broncos

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The Broncos are a team whose history has more ups and downs than the Rocky Mountain skyline. This Super Bowl Sunday, they will be making their eighth appearance on the NFL’s biggest stage. Before kickoff, let’s all take a quick look at the wild world of Denver football.    

1. Founded as an American Football League club on August 14, 1959, the Broncos participated in the AFL’s first regular season game, beating the Boston Patriots 13-10 in 1960.

2. Financial woes forced the young team to spend its first two seasons wearing hand-me-down uniforms from an All-Star college game. Yellow and brown with vertically striped socks, the hideous duds were destroyed in an organized bonfire during the 1962 off-season.

3. Gene Mingo—professional football's first African-American placekicker—was a Bronco from 1960 to 1964.

4. North Platte, Nebraska, celebrated the Cornhusker State’s 100th anniversary by inviting the Broncos over to serve as their “home” team in a special 1967 exhibition game against the Oakland Raiders.

5. Playing football a mile above sea level has some interesting effects on the ball itself. At Denver’s altitude, kickoffs usually go about 10 percent farther than they do in other NFL cities. Unsurprisingly, three out of the four longest field goals in league history took place there. Among these is the all-time record-holder, a 64-yard kick made by Denver’s Matt Prater against the Tennessee Titans in 2013. How much Denver’s thinner air contributes to longer field goals is a topic of much debate among football fans, given that accuracy is still paramount.

6. Number 18 was retired by the Broncos in 1963 to honor the club’s original quarterback, Frank Tripucka. But once Peyton Manning came to town in 2012, it was promptly un-retired (with Tripucka’s blessing) on the former Colt’s behalf.

Peyton Manning

7.  “Birmingham Broncos” sure has a nice ring to it. When Colorado taxpayers voted against a proposal that would grant $250,000 for a stadium expansion in the late 1960s, the team’s ownership considered moving the franchise to Alabama. A grassroots campaign raised the necessary funds from private contributors.

8. Who was the first male cheerleader in Denver Broncos history? Robin Williams. At a 1979 home win, the actor showed up in boots and a glittering mini-skirt. With pom-poms waving, Williams rallied 74,000 fans as Mork—his extraterrestrial character on ABC’s popular sitcom Mork & Mindy. Fourteen days later, footage from the stunt appeared in a season two episode.

NFL Films

9. Once a coveted Major League Baseball prospect, legendary Broncos QB John Elway spent the summer of 1982 as the right fielder for a New York Yankees farm team in Oneonta, New York. Over 42 games there, he put up a .318 batting average. Not bad.

10. Denver’s current mayor is an ex-Broncos mascot. In the 1980s, the NFL decided to come out with a series of characters, called Huddles, that represented each team. Denver’s anthropomorphic pony was played by 17-year-old Michael Hancock; he was paid $25 per game.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

11. Elway’s come-from-behind victory in the 1986-'87 AFC championship game—a.k.a. “The Drive”—is one of the greatest wins in franchise history. That day, the visiting Broncos beat the Cleveland Browns, whose fans had tried to keep Denver’s players awake the night before by driving around the squad’s hotel and honking.

12. On January 28, 1990, the orange and blue lost the single most lopsided Super Bowl ever played, nabbing just 10 points to San Francisco’s 55. “The 49ers did what every expert said they would do: dominate us,” Broncos head coach Dan Reeves said.

13. Historically, the big game has been a mixed bag for Denver. They have won two, but the team has also lost a league-high five Super Bowls, by a cumulative score of 206-58.

14. At first, fans didn’t take kindly to the team’s present horse head logo. After the emblem was unveiled in 1997, somebody drove past the Broncos’ training facilities and fired paintballs at it.

15. Super Bowl XXXII MVP Terrell Davis was temporarily blinded by a migraine headache during the game. “I couldn’t see a thing,” he said. “Nothing.” Undaunted, coach Mike Shanahan sent his sightless running back out onto the field, where Elway faked the ball to him before jogging into the end zone for a touchdown. That night, Denver finally claimed its first world championship—though Davis had to miss most of the second quarter.    

16. Along with Brett Favre, Peyton Manning of the Broncos is one of only two NFL quarterbacks who’ve managed to beat all 32 teams.

17. Between 1977 and 2007, super-fan Tim “the Barrel Man” McKernan attended every single home game while wearing nothing but boots, suspenders, a cowboy hat, and an orange barrel. 

Broncos Die-Hards (With an Eagles Fan).

18. Long before the NFL came knocking, running back Ronnie Hillman played youth football in a Los Angeles league owned and operated by Snoop Dogg.

19. Super Bowl XLVIII was a gut-wrenching nightmare for Bronco fanciers, with the Seattle Seahawks smashing the team 43-8. On a positive note, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas set a record for most Super Bowl receptions, with 13 catches.

20. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are both die-hard Broncos fans. Three years ago, the pair offered John Elway a free ticket to see their hit musical The Book of Mormon when it opened in Denver, only to discover that he’d already watched it on Broadway. Apparently, the Duke of Denver gave them a rave review.

21. By dismantling the Atlanta Falcons in 1999, Elway—who was 38 at the time—became the oldest starting quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl. Now the vice president of Denver football operations, he’ll be watching 39-year-old Manning try to break his record on Sunday. 

All images courtesy of Getty Images

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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