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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 4

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NFL WEEK FOUR: A 9-7 record in Week 3 is good but not great, but I'm tickled that two of my three upset picks (Seattle and Chicago) came through. A third in Oakland ended up sailing wide left. Also, being a Georgia boy, I don't mind that I muffed my Saints-Falcons prediction. I did say it would be "a close one," but forgot to specify "as close as kissin' cousins behind the barn door at a Labor Day barbecue." And that's close.

Woody has compiled a 27-21 overall record this season. Here we go for Week 4!

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N.Y. Jets (2-1) @ Buffalo (0-3)

This is the 99th regular-season meeting between these two long-time AFL/AFC rivals. Putting Buffalo’s league-worst offense (242 yards per game) up against New York’s defense is like, well, asking a bison to outrun a 747; it ain’t gonna happen. And when that big ol’ Jet airliner lands in Buffalo this Sunday, it’ll be the Bills playing the part of “The Joker.”

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: The Jets’ defense has allowed opponents to complete more than half their third-down attempts this season (23 of 43).

Click "more" to see my picks on the 13 other games in Week 4.

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Seattle (2-1) @ St. Louis (1-2)

The Rams earned a rare home win last week, their first in 15 attempts dating back to 2008. The Gold Horns remain at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 4 when some angry-looking Seahawks swoop in from the northwest. Is the spirit back in Saint Louis? Although the Ocean Birds have won the last 10 games of this matchup, they’ve not shown enough to gain Woody’s confidence this year. Eyes will open all over the NFL when rookie QB Sam Bradford shows just how Ram tough he really is.

Woody’s Winner (in a mild upset): St. Louis

FACT: Rams kicker Josh Brown has been blocked twice in 8 FG attempts so far this season.

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Carolina (0-3) @ New Orleans (2-1)

With RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas hurting, this week’s stat line for Saints QB Drew Brees may be more impressive than usual, and that’s saying something. Of course, that’s only if New Orleans doesn’t jump out to an early, insurmountable lead – which is a distinct possibility. The Panthers have won 11 of their last 15 meetings against the team from Louisiana, but that means little to a team still smarting from a division loss at home last week against the Falcons. This Sunday at the Superdome, every quarter will be the French Quarter.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: Five fumbles by Carolina RBs this season have rendered the team last in the NFL in scoring, averaging only 10.7 points per game.

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Detroit (0-3) @ Green Bay (2-1)

Detroit RB Jahvid Best leads the NFL with 5 TDs this season (4 rushing, one receiving), but he won’t find any holes in the type of cheese that the Packers’ defense will be serving this Sunday afternoon. The Lions will smell like #2 until they manage to get their #1 QB, Matt Stafford, back on the field. Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley leads the NFC with 17 catches and 265 yards, but has yet to cross the goal line in 2010. QB Aaron Rodgers will rectify that this week, perhaps more than once.

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: Green Bay doesn’t believe in going for it on fourth down; they’re the only NFL offense yet to attempt one this season, and their defense has held opponents to 0-for-4 in fourth-down conversions.

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Cincinnati (2-1) @ Cleveland (0-3)

The Bengals’ high-risk, high-reward style has paid dividends this season, including a perfect 5-for-5 conversion rate on 4th-down attempts. They’ve also converted all 8 of their field goal attempts this season, including two from 50+ yards. Of course, I don’t expect Cincy to have too much trouble crossing the goal line in Cleveland, so none of that matters. The Battle for Ohio goes to the Tigers, who should have plenty in the tank to turn the Browns various shades of black and blue.

Woody’s Winner: Cincinnati

FACT: The Cleveland Browns have converted a league-low 1 of 3 field goal attempts in 2010.

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Baltimore (2-1) @ Pittsburgh (3-0)

Having won two straight road games, the Steelers sit all by their lonesome atop the AFC North. Pittsburgh’s first in-division matchup brings the Ravens to Heinz Field. As might be expected from two defense-focused clubs, the last five meetings between these teams have all been decided by fewer than 7 points. Which Joe Flacco will show up, the one who threw 4 interceptions in Week 2, or the one who threw 3 touchdowns in Week 3? The Raven QB will decide the game, and Woody predicts that he’ll be Joe Cool (or maybe Cold).

Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh

FACT: Pittsburgh’s offense has generated a league-low 12.7 first downs per game.

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Denver (1-2) @ Tennessee (2-1)

Because of scheduling quirks and realignment, Tennessee and Denver have only faced one another twice since the Oilers left Houston after the 1996 season. Injuries to Bronco running backs have kept the team from developing a rhythm this season, and they’ll need that stompin’ beat if they hope to headline in Nashville. A healthy dose of RB Chris Johnson up the gut will prove that folks in the Volunteer State know just how to deal with a bunch of wild horses.

Woody’s Winner: Tennessee

FACT: Denver leads the NFL this season with 350 passing yards per game.

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San Francisco (0-3) @ Atlanta (2-1)

Not all that long ago, the 49ers and Falcons battled each other twice a season in the NFC West, and San Francisco dominated. Since Atlanta moved to the NFC South in 2002, the Dirty Birds are a perfect 3-0 against the Red-and-Gold. San Francisco’s defense has allowed an NFC-worst 87 points this season, and their one-dimensional offense centers on RB Frank Gore, who leads the team in rushes and receptions. The Birds of Prey should swoop down on the hapless Gold Miners with enough speed to make them spit out their beans and coffee.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: Atlanta is back to winning games on the ground. The Falcons have run the ball 120 times so far this season, 34 more than the next-closest NFC team.

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Indianapolis (2-1) @ Jacksonville (1-2)

Through 3 games, the Jacksonville defense has allowed 16 passing plays of at least 20 yards. That’s a downright scary statistic considering that the team has to face Peyton Manning this week. The QB already has one 400-yard passing game this season, and an “Indy 500” isn’t out of the question. The Colts have shoes, so they don’t really need to change tires, but if they decide to do so, they’ll have Jax to make the job a whole lot easier.

Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis

FACT: Jacksonville is 4-4 on field goal attempts this year, all of them from 40+ yards.

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Houston (2-1) @ Oakland (1-2)

The Texans are 4-1 all-time vs. the Raiders, but Houston’s defense has allowed almost 7 yards per play, and their O-line has allowed 11 sacks over three games. This Sunday, Houston heads out to Oakland, whose kicking machine has been misfiring recently. Sebastian Janikowski is 2-for-6 on field goals of 40+ yards, and a miss last week cost the team a win at Arizona. The Men in Black will hold their own at home against the Schaub-Foster-Johnson trio, but won’t be able to pull out a W.

Woody’s Winner: Houston

FACT: Oakland has committed a league-leading 33 penalties this season for a league-leading 290 yards.

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Washington (1-2) @ Philadelphia (2-1)

The Eagles are 2-0 on the road but lost at home, so Michael Vick and his High-Fliers are hoping to treat the fans at Lincoln Financial to some Redskin Ragoût  in Week 3. Washington’s defense has allowed an NFL-most 424 yards per game this season, and that average isn’t going to shrink against the Philly offensive juggernaut. The Redskins seem to play well against strong teams but lose to weaker ones. Luckily for the City of Brotherly Love, their squad falls in the former category.

Woody’s Winner: Philadelphia

FACT: Washington has converted only 6 of 33 third-down attempts this season, for an NFL-worst 18 percent.

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Arizona (2-1) @ San Diego (1-2)

Down 17-0 last week after Seattle’s Leon Washington opened the second half with a 101-yard KO return for a touchdown, the Chargers fought back to tie the score. But then a second KO-return TD for Washington (this one only 99 yards) left San Diego with its second loss. Still, the Bolts’ offense leads the NFL with 461 yards a game, so victories are imminent. It would be a Cardinal sin to let Arizona’s winning record fool you, as their victories have come against St. Louis and Oakland. Expect the California Current Company to deal the Cards a bad hand in the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium this week.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: Malcom (yes, he spells it that way) Floyd has gained 240 yards on 12 receptions this season, each of them for a first down.

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Chicago (3-0) @ N.Y. Giants (1-2)

The Bears’ up-front defense has held opponents to only 2.1 yards per rushing attempt this season, and if they can keep that up against New York, they’ll force Eli Manning to throw the pigskin. This worries fans of the G-Men, since their QB has thrown 6 interceptions, succumbed to 7 sacks, and 2 lost fumbles so far in 2010. Unless he plays better, Goldilocks will end up clinging to Jack’s beanstalk as some fearsome Bears climb up and knock a few Giants out of the clouds.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Chicago

FACT: The Bears are the only NFC team yet to score a rushing touchdown this season.

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New England (2-1) @ Miami (2-1)

New England’s opponents are 4-of-4 on fourth-down conversions in 2010, and Miami is just the type of team to take advantage of that statistic. The Patriot defense is as spotty as a Dalmatian, and the Dolphins will spout enough water to put out the musket fire. It was a little over two years ago that the Fish unleashed the “Wildcat” formation on an unsuspecting bunch of Pats. It’ll be interesting to see what tricks they pull out of their blowholes on Monday Night Football.

Woody’s Winner (in a mild upset): Miami

FACT: The Pats lead the league with 90 points through 3 games, but they’ve needed every one of those scores, since their shaky defense has allowed 82 points during that span.

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BYE: Kansas City (3-0), Dallas (1-2), Minnesota (1-2), Tampa Bay (2-1)

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Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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iStock
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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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