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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 5

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Woody ended last week with an even 7-7 record, correctly choosing the Rams in an upset, but blanking by choosing the Dolphins on MNF. That puts me at 34-28 for the year, not bad for a season that’s been wild and wacky one-quarter of the way through. How wacky? Indianapolis has lost two of their first four games, Dallas is in last place in the NFC East, and Kansas City is the league’s only undefeated team. We’ve had TD catches that weren’t, umpires in different spots, several QB flip-flops, and a whole bunch of last-second victories. You want upsets? I predict some upsets. Here's what's in store for Week 5:


Tampa Bay (2-1) @ Cincinnati (2-2)

The Buccaneers have won three straight road games, and the Florida team will feel at home when they see all the orange up in Cincinnati. (Bucs head coach Raheem) Morris hopes that his finicky defense returns to the form they displayed early in the season. The Bengals won’t run the table on the AFC North this year, thanks to last week’s loss at Cleveland. A solid victory is the only remedy, and It’ll take more than a parrot and an eye patch to make the Tigers do any plank-walking.

Woody’s Winner: Cincinnati

FACT: The Bucs are undefeated in their last five games vs. the Bengals.

Click "more" to see my picks on the other games in Week 5.


Atlanta (3-1) @ Cleveland (1-3)

The Falcons escaped last week’s matchup with San Francisco by the tips of their talons, but a win is a win. This week, the flock will gather in formation over Lake Erie, ready to dive-bomb a bunch of Browns coming off their first victory of the year. Cleveland has lost three games by a combined 12 points, so the Dawg Defense may hold its own for a quarter or two. But there’s a reason that Georgia’s state bird is the Brown Thrasher.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: The Falcons have the NFC’s longest current winning streak (3 games).


N.Y. Giants (2-2) @ Houston (3-1)

The Giants defense was off-the-scale awesome vs. Chicago last week, limiting the Bears to 3 points and only 110 yards of offense. They won’t manage those kinds of numbers against the more balanced Texans, who has the personnel to counter most any defensive scheme. With 7 fumbles and 6 interceptions, New York has trouble holding on to the ball, and this tendency may haunt them in front of a hostile house of hollerin’ Houston fans. If Andre (not the Giant) Johnson feels well enough to play, Oiltown may gush with excitement, but Woody senses that it’s time for a return to Earth at Space Center Houston.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): New York

FACT: Last week, the Giants defense recorded 10 sacks and held Chicago’s offense to 0-for-13 on third-down attempts.


Kansas City (3-0) @ Indianapolis (2-2)

By this time last season, Indy was undefeated while Kansas City was winless, but oh, how things have changed. But let’s be honest; the Colts are better than their record indicates, and the Chiefs won’t be lossless much longer. Fresh off their bye and with two weeks to prepare, the KC Masterpiece saunters into Indy hoping to hang a third “L” on Peyton Manning and crew. They’ll make a game of it, but the tribal leaders won’t be able to catch those speedy young horses.

Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis

FACT: Twice in the last two games, opposing offensive lineman have accused Chiefs DE Shaun Smith of illegally grabbing them in their “privates.”


Green Bay (3-1) @ Washington (2-2)

QB Donovan McNabb returned to his former home in Philly last week and led the Redskins to a victory. This week, he returns to FedEx Field hoping to deliver a message to the rest of the NFC. Both teams are missing their top running backs, so Woody expects McNabb and the Pack’s Aaron Rodgers to put on a scrambling show as they try to outdo one another. Statistically, Washington has one of the worst pass defenses, while Green Bay has one of the best. The Cheese stands alone.

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: The Packers lead the NFC with an average 26.5 points per game.


Jacksonville (2-2) @ Buffalo (0-4)

After a brutal three-game stretch (Packers, Patriots, Jets), the Bills finally meet an opponent they might be able to corral. Jacksonville had to play a near-perfect game to beat the Colts last week, and the herculean effort may have taken its toll. Buffalo seems to show fire every other week, hanging tough against Miami in Week 1 and New England in Week 3. Here in Week 5, rookie C.J. Spiller gets his first start at RB for the home team, and he’ll kick into high-gear as the star attraction in the Wild West Show.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Buffalo

FACT: Buffalo is the only AFC team that has not recorded a win yet this season.


Denver (2-2) @ Baltimore (3-1)

Kyle Orton and the league’s top-gaining air attack rumbles into Maryland in Week 5 to face Ray Lewis and the league’s best pass defense. Denver doesn’t pretend to run the ball with Knowshon Moreno out of the lineup, so unless they have some fancy pass plays drawn up, the Broncos will be pondering weak and weary by the time the final whistle blows. The Mile-High Men have never beaten the Ravens in Baltimore, and I don’t believe that will change in 2010.

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Ravens have held opponents to a league-low 235.8 yards per game.


Chicago (3-1) @ Carolina (0-4)

QB Jay Cutler is responsible for the Bears’ winning record this season, and his absence in Sunday’s game may just be the “anther” that the Panthers have been looking for. Chicago RB Matt Forte has done most of his damage as a receiver, while Carolina RB DeAngelo Williams has run like a big cat in his last two performances. This is one of three games this week where I’m predicting an 0-4 team to win, so here’s hoping that the Bear hunting is primo in the Piedmont.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Carolina

FACT: The home team has won each of the four previous regular-season meetings between these two teams.


St. Louis (2-2) @ Detroit (0-4)

It’s rare that the Lions are favored to win a game, even at home. Head coach Jim Schwartz is well aware that his team needs a notch in the “W” column to match their improved statistics. The new-look Rams have impressed this season under rookie QB Sam Bradford, and if Detroit continues to shoot themselves in the foot, it may be another long Sunday in Motown. It’ll be close, but the Kings of the Jungle will score enough points to eke out an all-too-infrequent win.

Woody’s Winner: Detroit

FACT: The Lions have scored 82 points, fourth-most of the 16 teams in the NFC.


New Orleans (3-1) @ Arizona (2-2)

So it seems that ex-Brown Derek Anderson was not the QB solution in Arizona. (Say it with me: Duh.) Rookie Max Hall took over in the last half of Week 4’s loss, and he’ll get the start this time around. Unfortunately, he’ll be facing the defending Super Bowl champs, whose defense has been salivating at the film of the BYU stud being sacked 6 times (and fumbling once) last week. The Cardinals’ even record is deceiving, having scraped by at home against St. Louis and Oakland. Facing New Orleans takes things to a different level, and even though I’m not Catholic, even I know that Saints outrank Cardinals.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: Despite allowing more than twice as many points (118) as they’ve scored (58), the Cardinals are in first place in the NFC West.


San Diego (2-2) @ Oakland (1-3)

Just as Arizona’s 2-2 record belies their team’s ability, the Chargers’ identical record is similarly deceiving. San Diego is 0-2 on the road like the Cards, but they were competitive in those games. In Week 5, they head up the California coast to challenge the Silver-and-Black at Oakland Coliseum. New QB Bruce Gradkowski’s willingness to throw the ball downfield has helped open things up for RB Darren McFadden, and the Raiders have shown a spark that hasn’t been there for a while. Sadly, a spark isn’t much when compared to the power of a lightning bolt.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: The Chargers’ offense leads the NFL in yardage per game, and their defense is ranked second in the league for fewest yards allowed.


Tennessee (2-2) @ Dallas (1-2)

It’ll be a warm day in Dallas, but Tennessee hopes to fly in a giant Titan-ic iceberg to cool off the home crowd. Both teams have lost some hard-fought games this season: Dallas has moved the ball but not scored, while the Titans have scored while struggling to get yardage. While no game at this point in the season is a must-win, should the Stars falter this week, the price of steak may go way up as eastern Texas extracts its revenge on beef cattle statewide. But with a stellar 16-5 record after bye weeks, America’s Team will feast on Tennessee veal instead.

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: Last August during a preseason game, the Titans’ A.J. Trapasso became the first to bounce a punt off the then-new video screen at Cowboys Stadium.


Philadelphia (2-2) @ San Francisco (0-4)

The 49ers deserved a victory last week in Atlanta, but “should have” doesn’t show up in the standings. Meanwhile, the Eagles have gone from flop to flip to flop again as QB Kevin Kolb returns to the starter’s spot. His line last week was not horrible, but would have been better had Jason Avant been able to haul in a winning TD pass that bounced off his mitts. (Alas, he was Avant-guarded.) Frisco coach Mike Singletary’s job may hinge on his team’s performance at home this week, so he’ll be doing all he can to ready his Gold Miners against the High Fliers. “Dangnabbit, ah hates those varmints!”

Woody’s Winner: San Francisco

FACT: The Eagles scored 38, 38, and 40 points in their three most recent road games in San Francisco.


Minnesota (1-2) @ N.Y. Jets (3-1)

There’s plenty of drama this week on Monday Night Football. Brett Favre returns to the Big Apple to face his 2008 team, the Jets, and he’ll have recently-acquired Randy Moss lined up at WR for the first time this season. The Vikings had a bye last week, and it’s anyone’s guess whether the time off helped or hindered Minnesota’s chemistry. It’s Woody’s opinion that the Jet stream will keep those Norse ships from docking. And you can’t pillage while treading water.

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: The home team has only won two of five Monday Night Football games this season.


BYE: Dolphins, Patriots, Steelers, Seahawks


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
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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