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19 Sports Injuries Weirder Than Nate Burleson's

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Detroit Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson broke his arm yesterday in a car crash that occurred after he "tried to adjust one of the pizza boxes falling off a seat in his black 2009 GMC Yukon." This might not make Burleson feel any better, but he's hardly the first athlete to sustain a weird injury. Here are a few highlights from the injury reports of days gone by.

1. Sacramento Kings small forward Lionel Simmons missed two games in his rookie season (1991) because he had tendonitis in his right wrist and forearm from playing too much GameBoy.

2. In 1994, journeyman knuckleballer Steve Sparks missed out on a chance to make his first big-league roster when he dislocated his shoulder during spring training with the Milwaukee Brewers. He tried to rip a phone book while imitating a group of motivational speakers who had visited the team.

3. NHL goalie Glenn Healy enjoyed a long career, and he also enjoyed playing the bagpipes. While playing for the Maple Leafs in 2000, Healy needed stitches after slicing himself while repairing an antique set of pipes.

4. Hall of Fame offensive tackle Turk Edwards suffered a career-ending injury in 1940 during the pregame coin toss. When Edwards turned to return to the Washington Redskins' sideline, he caught his cleats on the turf, which wrecked his fragile knee and forced him into retirement.

5. Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs once missed seven games after straining his back while trying to pull on his trademark cowboy boots. (In all fairness, it's probably tough with all of that chicken grease on your fingers.)

6. After scoring a goal in 2004, Servette midfielder Paulo Diogo decided to celebrate by jumping into the crowd. His wedding ring had other plans, though, and caught on a fence. The force ripped off the top of Diogo's finger, and to add insult to injury, the refs booked him for excessive celebration.

7. Actually, it might just be a good idea to take off all of your rings when you hit the field or court. Atlanta Braves closer Cecil Upshaw missed the entire 1970 season when his ring got caught on an awning as he tried to demonstrate his slam dunk technique.

8. Boston Red Sox pitcher Clarence Blethen didn't have a long career, but he did have a fine set of false teeth. According to legend, Blethen liked to carry his false teeth in his back pocket when he played, which was a decent enough plan until he had to make a takeout slide at second to break up a double play during the 1923 season. When Blethen slid, his false chompers supposedly bit him on the rear, which led to a bloody mess that forced him out of the game.

9. Point guard Muggsy Bogues once missed the second half of a game after he became dizzy from inhaling ointment fumes while receiving treatment for a sore muscle at halftime.

10. At some point during the 1975 or 1976 season, Mets reliever Ken Sanders had so much trouble seeing through the glare coming off of a glass partition behind home plate at Shea Stadium, he didn't realize his catcher had tossed the ball back to him. The ball conked Sanders right in the face, breaking his nose and cheek.

11. Journeyman reliever Greg A. Harris once missed two starts for the Rangers after he inflamed his elbow by spending an entire game flicking sunflower seeds at a friend who was sitting nearby.

12. One more reason to pay attention to your pharmacist: Brazilian soccer star Ramalho once missed three days of action because he was bedridden after taking a suppository orally.

13. Norwegian defender Svein Grondalen went for a jog as part of his training for an international match during the 1970s...and ran headlong into a moose. The injury forced him to withdraw from the match.

14. Atlanta first baseman Ryan Klesko missed several games in 1999 after straining his back while picking up his lunch tray.

15. Pitcher Tom Glavine suffered from food poisoning during the 1992 season; his symptoms were so bad that he broke a rib while vomiting.

16. Chicago Cubs outfielder Jose Cardenal missed a game in 1974 because his eyelid was "stuck open," which prevented him from blinking. Although he eventually overcame this ailment, it didn't help Cardenal's reputation as a player who liked to use suspicious injuries to get out of games; two seasons earlier he had missed a game because crickets in his hotel room had kept him up all night, leaving him exhausted.

17. Pitching great Nolan Ryan once missed a start after he was allegedly bitten by a coyote.

18. In May 2002 Baltimore Orioles left fielder Marty Cordova fell asleep in a tanning bed and got a wicked sunburn on his face. His doctor ordered him to stay out of direct sunlight, which meant Cordova had to hide out in the clubhouse during day games until his face healed.

19. Stuttgart Kickers soccer player Sascha Bender once suffered a facial injury after being punched. The assailant, teammate Christian Okpala, said Bender "permanently provoked me by farting all the time."

Obviously, these are just a few of the greatest weird injuries. We left out some commonly cited examples, like Bill Gramatica's painful field goal celebration and Gus Frerotte's ill-conceived head butt. Share your favorites in the comments.

Portions of this article originally appeared in 2009.

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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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