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6 Athletes (and a Coach) Who Lied About Their Age

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Age fabrication is prevalent in sports, whether the motive is to make an athlete old enough to sign a contract, young enough to be considered an elite prospect, or to meet a minimum or maximum age requirement for competing in an event. Compiling a full list of fabricators would take longer than Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez's delivery to home plate, but here are seven instances of people who shaved years off their actual age:

1. Danny Almonte

The question on most people's minds after Danny Almonte threw the first Little League World Series perfect game in 44 years in 2001 was, "Who is this kid?" It turned out that the question people should have been asking was, "How old is he?" Less than two weeks after the lanky lefthander from the Bronx struck out 18 of 21 batters with a blistering fastball and devastating slider, a Sports Illustrated writer presented an affidavit to Little League officials indicating Almonte was born in 1987, not 1989 as the Little League records showed. Almonte was 14, while Little League rules require players to turn 13 no earlier than August 1 during the season in which they are competing. Sports Illustrated reported that Almonte's father, Felipe, had registered his son's false date of birth just weeks before he moved from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx a year earlier. Almonte's team "“ the Rolando Paulino All-Stars "“ was forced to forfeit all of its games at the Little League World Series. One year after the scandal, Danny Almonte admitted that he knew he was 14, but said he found out after the tournament had begun. Almonte played baseball in high school, but wasn't drafted. He appeared in six games for the Southern Illinois Miners in an independent league last season before being released.

2. Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo

nats.jpgOn July 2, 2006, the Washington Nationals awarded 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez a $1.4 million signing bonus, the largest in team history. Nationals fans envisioned the slick-fielding switch hitter nicknamed "Smiley" manning the left side of the infield with top draft pick Ryan Zimmerman for years to come, while Washington general manager Jim Bowden hoped the signing would establish a pipeline of Dominican talent to the organization. "We want every young boy wanting to be a Washington National," Bowden said at the time. But Esmailyn Gonzalez wasn't actually a young boy. In fact, he wasn't actually Esmailyn Gonzalez. Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated reporter Melissa Segura revealed that the Nationals' once-prized prospect isn't 19, but 23, and his name is Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo. The news, coupled with an ongoing federal investigation into the role Bowden may have played in the skimming of money from signing bonuses given to Latin players, has put the general manager's future with the Nationals in doubt.

3. Rafael Furcal

furcal.jpgWhen Atlanta Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal was pulled over on an early Saturday morning in June 2000, he was charged with DUI and underage alcohol consumption. A report that surfaced later that week indicated that Furcal wasn't guilty of the second charge, though he was apparently guilty of lying about his age. According to the report, Furcal was 22, not 19 and the game's youngest player as team officials, fans, and the media had been led to believe. Furcal denied the report and didn't admit to lying about his age until spring training in 2002. "I'm now 23," Furcal told reporters. "Nothing changed in my life because I have to play like I play everyday." Furcal said a coach in his Dominican youth league suggested he change his age in order to increase his chances of being signed to a major league contract.

4. Miguel Tejada

tejada.jpgDuring an April 2008 episode of E:60, an ESPN reporter presented Tejada a copy of his birth certificate and asked him to explain the discrepancy between his documented date of birth "“ May 24, 1974 "“ and May 24, 1976, the one Tejada provided when he signed his first major league contract in 1993. Tejada removed his microphone and walked off the set, ending the interview, but admitted to lying about his age soon after. "I had no intention of doing anything wrong," said Tejada, who was actually 19 when he was signed. ""¦I'm a poor kid that wanted to be a professional big leaguer." Like Furcal, a local coach encouraged Tejada to shave a couple years off of his age to improve his chances of being signed. Recently, Tejada admitted telling a more serious lie; he pleaded guilty to making a false representation to Congress during an investigation into whether his former teammate, Rafael Palmeiro, lied about using steroids.

5. Tom Shaw

senior-PGA-tour.jpgBaseball players aren't the only athletes who lie about their age. Tom Shaw joined the PGA Tour in 1963 at the age of 25 but shaved four years off his date of birth. Why, you ask? "Everybody was lying about his age, so I thought why not do it earlier and lie in my 20s and nobody would catch on," Shaw admitted years later. "I figured it was the fun thing to do." Shaw didn't bother correcting the lie until he began itching to join the Senior Tour, which has a minimum age of 50. In 1989, at the actual age of 50, Shaw called the Senior Tour's administrator and explained his situation. The administrator, unlike the one who changed Shaw's date of birth in 1963, was skeptical and asked for proof. Shaw sent his passport, a copy of his driver's license, and his birth certificate before he was finally welcomed onto the tour. Shaw won The Tradition tournament in 1993.

6. Kim Gwang Suk

gymnast.jpgThe controversy that surrounded the Chinese women's gymnastics team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was hardly a new development in a sport where smaller athletes with less developed bodies are at an advantage. In 1989, North Korea's Kim Gwang Suk raised eyebrows when she won the world championships. Kim, who was 4-foot-3 and 62 pounds, was also missing her two front teeth, which her coach said was the result of an accident on the uneven bars. North Korean officials reported her birth date as October 5, 1974, making her just old enough for competition. Two years later, Kim entered the world championships with a completely different date of birth "“ February 15, 1975. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, her reported date of birth changed yet again, this time by one year, to February 15, 1976. U.S. coach Bela Karolyi made it clear he thought Kim was underage. "Her milk teeth are still falling," Karolyi told reporters. "When she's 14 or 15, she's going to be a nice little gymnast." While Kim's actual age was never actually determined, the North Korean team was banned from the world championships in 1993.

7. Marv Levy

levy.jpgWhen Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson brought back former head coach Marv Levy as the team's general manager and vice president of football operations in January 2006, Wilson could be excused for wondering if Levy was really 80 years old, or a spry-looking 83. Levy, who has a master's degree in English from Harvard, addressed his age during his introductory press conference. "I came out of the closet on it, I guess," Levy told reporters. "Way back when I was hired in 1986, I was 61 years of age, and it sounded too old, so I lied and said I was 58. Finally I cleared that up. Maybe as I matured I came to realize it wasn't a factor. It's what you can do that counts." Levy's published date of birth officially switched from 1928 to 1925 in 1996, by which time he had led the Bills to four Super Bowls. Levy, who has since stepped down as Bills GM, became only the second 72-year-old head coach in NFL history (George Halas was the other) before retiring from coaching after the 1997 season. Incidentally, Levy's father lied about his age to join the Marines in World War I.

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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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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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