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10 Former Professional Athletes Currently Serving Time

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Former Yankees' standout pitcher Brien Taylor is widely accepted as one of the biggest disappointments in Major League Baseball history. Now, he's known as one of the game's most notorious criminals. Next week, the former number 1 pick will be sentenced to between 5 and 40 years in prison after he pleaded guilty this summer to distributing crack cocaine. Now 40, Taylor has been incarcerated since his March arrest.

What was once a promising start to a young career has turned into the latest tragic story of a former pro getting himself involved in the wrong side of the law. Here's a look back at 10 other players who are now serving time in prison.

1. Ugueth Urbina

The former closer was sentenced in Venezuela in 2007 to 14-plus years in prison for the attempted murder of five workers on his ranch. The attacks by several men were particularly severe—involving machetes and pouring gasoline on their victims. Their crime? Urbina accused them of stealing a gun from him.

2. Dave Meggett

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Meggett was sentenced to 30 years in 2010 for criminal sexual conduct and burglary stemming from an encounter he had with a college student the year before. His defense argued that the sex was consensual. The three-time All-Pro and one-time Super Bowl champion's legacy has been overshadowed by a series of troubling episodes during his playing days and afterward. In 2007, he was convicted of misdemeanor sexual battery and served a two-year probation period.

3. Lawrence Phillips

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In 2008, the former running back was sentenced to 10 years (eventually reduced to 7) in prison on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. Three years earlier, he had driven onto a field and struck three kids with his car. Reports indicated that he had been upset after losing a pickup football game and then suspected them of stealing his possessions. In 2009, Phillips was sentenced to 25 years in prison on a separate conviction for assault and other charges, for a total term of more than 31 years.

4. Mel Hall

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Former outfielder Mel Hall got 45 years in prison in 2009 after he was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl that he coached on a basketball team. During the sentencing, other accusers came forward to say that Hall had carried on inappropriate relationships with them as well. "We believe that the verdict does on some level show that the jury understood," said the prosecutor after the trial. "They looked in these girls' eyes and said this is worth 40 years, and we agree with them." After half of his prison term, he will be eligible for parole.

5. Rae Carruth

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The promising young Panthers' receiver had his career go off the rails in 2001 when he was sentenced to more than 18 years in prison for arranging the death of the woman pregnant with his child. Miraculously, the child survived the shooting that took his mother's life. At the time of her death, the victiim, Cherica Adams, was trailing Carruth's car in her own vehicle when Carruth suddenly stopped and a shooter emerged alongside her in a third car. Then Carruth drove off. Adams survived long enough to call 911 and describe the events of the evening. Two others were also apprehended and are in prison.

6. Eddie Johnson

Once a prominent player in the NBA, Johnson was kicked out of the league in 1987 after failing to stomp out his drug addiction. "Fast Eddie" Johnson boasted a career average of 15.1 points per game during his career, but his demons ultimately got the best of him. In total, he also posted 100 arrests and several stints in prison. In 2006, Johnson was arrested for burglary and sexual battery and molestation of an 8-year-old girl. He received a life sentence without parole. "I don't blame anybody for what happened to me but myself. I could make excuses, but there's no excuse," Johnson told USA Today in 2006.

7. Robert Rozier

He only played six games as a pro for St. Louis before being released over drug use, but it was Rozier's off-the-field behavior that earned him attention. After serving a six-month prison sentence in the 1980s, Rozier found God, moved into Yahweh ben Yahweh's "Temple of Love," and renamed himself "Neariah Israel", or child of god. Then, he joined "The Brotherhood," which carried out some murders, but Rozier testified against Yahweh and received a lighter sentence of 22 years in prison, of which he served 10 before his release in 1996. After being caught several years later for writing bad checks, he wound up back in the slammer, serving 25 years to life.

8. Cecil Collins

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In 2003, former Miami Dolphins' running back Cecil Collins was sent back to prison for 15 years after he admitted to breaking into the apartment of a woman he knew in order to watch her sleep. Sentencing didn't come without controversy: A state appeals court had thrown out the original 15-year sentence he was given back in 1999 after the judge ruled it unfair that Collins's relatives didn't have a chance to testify on his behalf. But after the judge lost her seat, the replacement wasn't as forgiving and did not change the original sentence.

9. Jay Vincent

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Last year, the former NBA player was sentenced to more than five years in prison and ordered to pay more than $110,000 to the IRS for his part in a fraud case. Vincent and others scammed 20,000 people by falsely making them certified home inspectors. Vincent apologized in federal court and was ordered to repay the government for what he stole. During Vincent's trial, Magic Johnson came forward to explain how "incredibly remorseful" his former Michaigan State teammate was over his actions. That message may have been hard to stomach considering Vincent was caught "writing, or causing others to write, bad checks in a different scheme while free on bond."

10. Darryl Henley

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The relatively unknown cornerback was drafted by the Rams in 1989 out of UCLA after being named an All-American. He totaled 12 interceptions in his 76-game career. But after Henley left the game, his life began to fall apart. He's currently serving a 41-year sentence for cocaine trafficking charges. To make matters worse, Henley hired a hitman to murder his sentencing judge and a witness in the drug case."A physical move to step away from past relationships that have already proven to be dangerous, and sometimes disastrous, is the only way for you to go," Henley wrote in a letter in 2008. "It is your life and you alone are responsible for it."

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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]