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8 Underappreciated Undefeated Seasons

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By now, you're probably aware that the New England Patriots are one win away from knocking the 1972 Miami Dolphins from their perch as the only NFL team to finish a season undefeated. If it happens, Tom Brady and Co. will also join this abbreviated list of sports history's other notable (and not-as notable) undefeated teams:

1. 1948 Cleveland Browns

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Coached by their namesake, Paul Brown, the Cleveland Browns were the model franchise of the All-American Football Conference. The Browns compiled a 52-4-3 and won all four titles during the league's existence, including a perfect season in 1948 that was capped by a 49-7 win over Buffalo. (Apparently the Bills' inability to win the big game wasn't just an early 90s fad.) The Browns' dominance actually helped contribute to the downfall of the AAFC, as the team was so good that Cleveland fans stopped coming to games. It's a wonder that Patriots games sold out this season.

An afterthought because: The NFL doesn't recognize the Browns' perfect season, or any other AAFC records.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Fittingly, Cleveland's first AAFC game was against the franchise from the city associated with pro football perfection since 1973. The Browns stomped the Miami Seahawks, 44-0.

2. 2007 Bronx Gridlock

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The Queens of Pain rolled into the City College gym seeking a third-straight Gotham Girls Roller Derby championship, but members of the Bronx Gridlock weren't about to let a royal pain get in the way of their quest for perfection. According to this incredibly detailed account of the game, the Gridlock held off a fierce rally, as the Queens of Pain made up 31 points in four jams. Ultimately, the loss of Greta Turbo, who fractured her tibia and fibula in practice, was too much for the Queens of Pain to overcome, and Beatrix Slaughter's 32 points carried the Bronx to victory. [Photo courtesy of Derby News Network.]

An afterthought because: For most people, jam is something you put on toast or do with a guitar.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: How physically brutal is roller derby? The Bronx Gridlock's perfect season consisted of exactly three bouts.

3. 1986 Texas Women's Basketball

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Jody Conradt's Texas Longhorns completed the first perfect season in women's college basketball history with a 97-81 win over Cheryl Miller and Southern California in the championship game. The Longhorns also defeated Missouri, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and Western Kentucky en route to the title in the 40-team tournament. Texas freshman Clarissa Davis was named the "Most Outstanding Player" after registering 56 points and 32 rebounds in two Final Four games.

An afterthought because: In addition to the fact that women's basketball had even fewer casual fans at the time, Geno Auriemma's UConn Huskies have attained perfection two times within the last 13 years.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Clarissa Davis, who later became Clarissa Davis-Wrightsil, was ejected from the inaugural American Basketball League all-star game in 1996 for punching Cindy Brown.

4. 1939 LIU Brooklyn Men's Basketball

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Legendary head coach Clair Bee led the Long Island University Blackbirds "“ or Busy Bees, as they were more often called "“ to a 31-0 record in 1939. LIU capped its perfect season with a win over Loyola of Chicago in the championship game of the NIT, which was then the premier college basketball postseason tournament. After LIU cruised to yet another win at Madison Square Garden midway through the season, Arthur J. Daley wrote in The New York Times, "The last lingering doubts about the sheer class of the Long Island University basketball team fled like chaff before the wind on Wednesday when Coach Clair Bee's Busy Bees turned back Marquette in a game of such superlative mechanical excellence that court fans are still talking about it."

An afterthought because: It's hard to shake the stigma that the NIT has developed since 1939.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Bee led LIU to a 43-game winning streak from 1935-1936 (the 1936 team is pictured above). The streak was snapped at Madison Square Garden, as Stanford's Hank Luisetti introduced a "strange new maneuver" to the sport of basketball "“ the jump shot.

5. 1992-2003 De La Salle Football

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The Concord, Calif., high school won an absurd 151 straight games and was named national champion by USA Today five times from 1992-2003 before losing to Bellevue (Wash.) 39-20. The Spartans' undoing in defeat? They couldn't stop the run, as Bellevue rushed 54 times for 463 yards. Afterward, De La Salle head coach Bob Ladouceur told reporters it was time for his team to lose: "I'm all for there being a lot of king of the hills, not just one." Can you imagine Bill Belichick uttering those words?

An afterthought because: It's high school football.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: De La Salle graduates in this year's Super Bowl include New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer and New England Patriots backup quarterback Matt Gutierrez, who is pictured above.

6. 1951 University of San Francisco Football

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After punctuating their perfect regular season with a 20-2 win over Loyola of Los Angeles, the 9-0 Dons waited anxiously for a bowl invite that never came. While some bowl officials claimed they passed over the team because the Dons weren't well enough known to draw fans to their games, San Francisco sportscaster Ira Blue reported that Gator Bowl President Sam Wolfson said his bowl, and at least two others, wanted to avoid teams with "Negro" players. USF boasted two African-Americans, Ollie Matson and Burl Toler, and the Dons refused to accept invites that came with the stipulation that Matson and Toler had to stay home.

An afterthought because: Without the money that a trip to a bowl game would've brought in, USF dropped football after the 1951 season.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Nine players from the 1951 USF team went on to play in the NFL, including future Hall of Fame inductees Gino Marchetti, Bob St. Clair, and Matson. Toler suffered a career ending injury in 1952, but later became the first African-American official in the NFL.

7. 1993 Buffalo Bandits

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One year after winning a championship in their inaugural season, the Buffalo Bandits defeated Philadelphia 13-12 in the championship game of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League to cap its 10-0 season. Buffalo remains the only team to finish a season undefeated in the history of the league, which later became the National Lacrosse League. The general manager of that team, Johnny Mouradian, will be elected into the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame later this month.

An afterthought because: You probably can't name another team in the National Lacrosse League.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Darris Kilgour, Buffalo's first ever draft pick in 1992, now coaches the Bandits.

8. 1998 Raleigh Wings

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Women's national soccer team captain Carla Overbeck and fellow UNC graduate Robin Confer helped lead Raleigh of the W-League to a 17-0 record in 1998. Confer had two goals in the tournament and garnered MVP honors for Raleigh, which defeated the Boston Renegades in the championship game.

An afterthought because: The franchise is now defunct, among other reasons.

If you remember nothing else, remember this: Overbeck would go on to play every minute of every game for the U.S. National team in the 1999 World Cup. She scored the first goal of the penalty kick shootout that ended with teammate Brandi Chastain's memorable game-winner in the final against China.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

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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