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Woody's Winners: NFL Week 7

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NFL WEEK SEVEN:

Week 6 brought a bit of normality back to the NFL, with fewer head-scratchers than in weeks past. I won 9 of 14 picks, and three of my losses were upsets that didn’t quite happen (including 3-point losses for Washington and Dallas). Still, things are weird in the standings:

  • In the NFC, every team has lost at least twice, meaning a win could propel a team from third to first in their division in an instant.
  • In the NFC West, all four teams lost in Week 5, but won in Week 6. Over in the AFC South, every team is .500 or better.
  • And with the only five-win team (the Jets) on bye this week, no team will end this week with more than five wins.

On to Week 7, which we’ll start with an upset:

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Philadelphia (4-2) @ Tennessee (4-2)

Last week, Kevin Kolb opened the eyes of Vick-struck Philly fans by passing for 3 TD and near-80-percent completion rate. He’ll start again this week as the Eagles head to LP Field to tackle the Titans, where both teams hope to earn their third consecutive win. The status of injured Tennessee QB Vince Young is still up in the air, but their offense is played on the ground, where RB Chris Johnson gobbles yards like they were Pringles. Philadelphia has yet to lose on the road this season, and the Birds will be humming in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Philadelphia

FACT: The Eagles are the only team ranked in the NFL top-10 in both rushing and passing offense.

Please click "more" to see my picks for the rest of Week 7's games.

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Cincinnati (2-3) @ Atlanta (4-2)

With the Reds and Braves quickly punted from the NL playoffs, sports fans in both cities have shifted their focus to the gridiron. Cats are known for chasing birds, but in the Georgia Dome, the Falcons want to be the predator. Atlanta is 15-1 at home with Matt Ryan at the helm, so they may get their chance. These similar teams sport good QBs, stud RBs, and quality receivers, tempered with defenses that occasionally lose their way. The Felines better pick up some mice and fish to go, because Blackbird won’t appear on the Sunday menu.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: The Falcons’ pass defense leads the NFL with 11 interceptions.

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Cleveland (1-5) @ New Orleans (4-2)

In the 11 matchups between these teams since the 1970 NFL merger, none was decided by a double-digit margin. Still, the experts favor New Orleans by two touchdowns, and I see no reason to doubt them. The NFL has seen some crazy upsets this season, but the Brownies winning at the Superdome would top them all. Unlike last year, the Saints aren’t surprising anyone, but they shouldn’t have any trouble manhandling Cleveland, unless the game comes down to field goals. It won’t.

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: The Saints lead the NFL in converting third downs, with a 50.7 percent success rate.

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Pittsburgh (4-1) @ Miami (3-2)

This interesting AFC contest pits the Dolphins’ pass-happy offense against those stingy Steelers defenders. Miami QB Chad Henne has proven he can perform well against tough pass defense, and increased use of their Wildcat offense may keep the Men in Black off their game. Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger showed very little rust in his first regular-season appearance last week - call him the stainless Steeler - but that was at home against the Browns. Will he be sharp enough to filet the fish, or will overconfidence doom Big Ben in his second game back?

Woody’s Winner (in a close one): Pittsburgh

FACT: The Dolphins are averaging only 4.2 penalties per game, the lowest rate in the league.

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St. Louis (3-3) @ Tampa Bay (3-2)

The Rams have proven sheepish on the road, and that’s where they find themselves in Week 7. But Tampa has been blown out in back-to-back home games due to their inability to run the ball. Unless RB Cadillac Williams can find second gear, he’ll be kept in the garage yet again. The Buccaneers’ defense is exhausted (insert your favorite muffler joke here), having allowed 90 points over their past three games. St. Louis will take advantage of this by handing off to Ram-tough RB Steven Jackson, who’ll lower his horns and raise his statistics against the league’s worst rush defense.

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

FACT: Rams WR Danny Amendola has caught 36 passes this season (tied for 3rd in the NFC) but none for TD.

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San Francisco (1-5) @ Carolina (0-5)

Pity the poor Panthers, who rank last in the NFL in both yards and points. How bad are things in Carolina? At the QB position, they’ve completed just 68 of 150 passes, with 9 interceptions, 17 sacks, and 4 fumbles. As my daddy would say, “That ain’t gettin’ it done, son.” Meanwhile, the 49ers finally broke into the win column by defeating Oakland in Week 6. San Francisco clearly fields a better team, and that proverbial monkey is now off their backs. Unless Carolina’s two-headed RB attack can find a whole lot of daylight, it’ll be dark early on the East Coast.

Woody’s Winner: San Francisco

FACT: San Francisco RB Frank Gore leads all RB with 33 catches this season.

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Washington (3-3) @ Chicago (4-2)

The Redskins’ defense has allowed a league-most 420 yards per game this season, but their schedule thus far has included Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Green Bay, and Indianapolis. Although Chicago has finally figured out how to run the ball, their offense isn’t nearly that explosive. Bears QB Jay Cutler has publicly blamed his teammates for the offense's struggles, and it remains to be seen if his squad will rally behind him. The truth is, three of the Windy City’s four wins have come against Detroit (1-5), Dallas (1-4) and Carolina (0-5), so they may simply not be as good as their record would have you believe. This just in: Washington rides Bear-back in Week 7.

Woody’s Winner: Washington

FACT: The Bears have converted only 13 of 74 third-down attempts this season, for a league-worst 17.6 percent.

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Jacksonville (3-3) @ Kansas City (3-2)

The Jaguars’ defense has allowed 38, 28, 28, 26, and 30 points in its last five games, but the team won three of those five games thanks to a superb rushing offense. The Chiefs have themselves quite a ground attack as well, running for an NFL-best 164.6 yards per game thus far this season. Kansas City’s run defense has also excelled, so Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew may have a tough time fitting all three names into the small gaps available to him.

Woody’s Winner: Kansas City

FACT: Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee is 11 of 11 for field goals this season, including a league-best 59-yarder. The Jaguars are the only team not to miss at least one FG attempt.

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Buffalo (0-5) @ Baltimore (4-2)

When you think of a buffalo, you think of a large, stocky creature big enough to block one’s path. Sadly, the Buffalo Bills are nothing like that. Their defense has allowed an incredible 182.4 rushing yards per game, 25 more than any other team. Ravens’ RB Ray Rice has been salivating over this opportunity, and he’ll use a few Bills jerseys to dab away the spittle as he saunters downfield. And Baltimore’s defense won’t break a sweat as they pull out a can of Bison-B-Gone and do some further damage to the ozone layer.

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: The Bills’ defense has intercepted only one pass this season, fewest in the NFL.

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Arizona (3-2) @ Seattle (3-2)

Look in the dictionary under “fluke” and you’ll see Arizona’s most recent game, a Week 5 win against the Saints. The Cards have been blown out 41-7 and 41-10 in their last two road games, so they’re not looking forward to abandoning the Grand Canyon State for a wetter and greener spot. But travel to Seattle they must, to face a Seahawks team fresh off a rejuvenating upset victory in Chicago. Newly-acquired RB Marshawn Lynch scored a TD in his Aquabird debut, and should do even more damage this week. The winner of this game will sit alone atop the NFC West.

Woody’s Winner: Seattle

FACT: The Cardinals have won six of their last seven games against the Seahawks.

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Oakland (2-4) @ Denver (2-4)

It’s rare that a team enters Week 7 without at least one divisional game, but this will be the Broncos’ first time against a fellow member of the AFC West. The last four games in this series have been won by the road team, and the Raiders are just sneaky enough to leave the Rockies with a “W” in their pocket. Unfortunately for the Silver-and-Black, their top two quarterbacks are ailing, and Coach Cable has (as of this writing) not yet named a starter. Oakland has trouble stopping the run, and Denver RB Knowshon Moreno is back in action and ready to gallop. His fresh legs will spell the difference.

Woody’s Winner: Denver

FACT: Of the Broncos’ 151 rushes this season, none has gained more than 17 yards.

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New England (4-1) @ San Diego (2-4)

Thanks to two of the game’s most powerful offenses, this game has 42-38 written all over it. The Bolts prefer the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium, where they’ve earned both of this season’s victories. A third win at home would be sweet, and it should happen. With the Minutemen allowing opposing QBs a 70-percent completion rate, Philip Rivers can hardly contain himself, but that’s okay: the Pat defense won’t be able to contain him either.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: Philip Rivers has thrown for 2,008 yards through 6 games, putting him on a pace for a record-breaking 5,355 yards this season.

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Minnesota (2-3) @ Green Bay (3-3)

Last week’s loss to Miami leaves Green Bay with three defeats this season, each by only three points. The Packers hope to get back on track at the expense of the struggling Vikings, who stumble into Lambeau Field still unsteady on their feet. While fans of the Purple were excited at the reacquisition of Randy Moss, some forget that while he is a former Vike, he’s new to QB Brett Favre. These two should get on the same page when Moss begins to grow on the veteran QB, but until then, it’ll be a struggle in the NFC North. Behold, the power of Cheese!

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: Brett Favre has fumbled 5 times in his 5 games this season, losing 4 of them.

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N.Y. Giants (4-2) @ Dallas (1-4)

The Giants have impressed despite the despicable habit of giving the ball to their opponents. QB Eli Manning has thrown 8 interceptions, while Ahmad Bradshaw leads all NFL RBs with three lost fumbles. Where the G-Men excel is on defense, and they’ll have to perform well against the ball-moving machine known as the Dallas Cowboys. The pass-catching trio of Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Jason Witten has combined for 1,062 yards and 8 TDs. Those type of numbers should begin to show up in the “win” column any week now… like this one.

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: Dallas leads the NFC in passing yards per game (305) and total yards per game (400).

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BYE: Detroit (1-5), Houston (4-2), Indianapolis (4-2), N.Y. Jets (5-1).

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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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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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