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Woody's Winners, NFL Week 11

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NFL WEEK ELEVEN

We say goodbye to bye weeks in Week 11, returning to a full schedule of 16 games per week for the remainder of the 2010 NFL season. I returned to Earth with a 7-7 record last week, but a win in Thursday night’s Bears-Dolphins game brings my overall record this year to a respectable 82-63. Will the wackiness continue this week? Thursday's game was already picked (and played), so here are Woody's Winners for the Sunday and Monday games in Week 11. Enjoy!

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Green Bay (6-3) @ Minnesota (3-6)

In his 299th career regular-season game, Brett Favre faces the team he led for 16 seasons – the Green Bay Packers. Earlier this year, he lost to his former team for the first time, but the 41-year-old QB hopes to fare better at home. Meanwhile, the Cheesehead Nation needs a win to keep pace with the Bears. There’s plenty of dairyland in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, but there’s a secret most folks don’t know about the Vikings: They’re lactose intolerant.

Woody’s Winner: Green Bay

FACT: The Packers have beaten the Vikings 50 times, more often than any other NFL team. (Minnesota’s overall record against Green Bay is 47-50-1).

Please click "more" to see Woody's Winners for the remaining Week 11 NFL games.

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Washington (4-5) @ Tennessee (5-4)

The one-two punch of a loss to Detroit and a blowout (at home!) against Philly has rattled the Hog Nation. Washington will also be without the services of RB Ryan Torain, but Clinton Portis is back in action to take his place. The Titans have fizzled as well, but the LP Field crowd should help QB Vince Young and RB Chris Johnson move the ball against the Redskins’ weak defense. It wouldn't surprise me if both of these teams ended Week 11 with an even record, but Tennessee should find a way to make the 'Skins cry, even without tossing some garbage by the side of the road.

Woody’s Winner: Tennessee

FACT: The road team has won the last 3 matchups between these teams.

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Arizona (3-6) @ Kansas City (5-4)

In Week 5, the Cardinals shocked the Saints to improve their record to 3-2, and headed into their bye week with confidence. Since then, they’ve lost four straight. The Chiefs have similarly fallen, following a 3-0 start with 4 losses in their last 6 games. QB Matt Cassel threw for 469 yards last week against Denver, proving that KC can do more than run the ball, but his effort still left his team 20 points short at game’s end. The crowd at Arrowhead Stadium should help the team’s defense recover against a Cactus League squad that ranks next-to-last in yards on offense. It looks like Phoenix isn’t done flaming out quite yet.

Woody’s Winner: Kansas City

FACT: Since the Cardinals moved from Missouri to Arizona, they’ve only won 1 of 5 games against the Chiefs, their former in-state rival.

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Baltimore (6-3) @ Carolina (1-8)

Either in the regular season or the playoffs, the Ravens have defeated 31 NFL franchises, but they’re 0-3 all-time against the Panthers. Of course, Baltimore is stark Raven mad after Week 10’s last-minute loss to the Falcons, and Carolina will be the unfortunates on the hurting end of all that anger. The purple-and-black will complete their collection this week, and may even enjoy some tennis after the game. Somebody will have to find a way to recycle the Cat gut that’ll litter the field at Bank of America Stadium. 40-Love!

Woody’s Winner: Baltimore

FACT: New Carolina starting QB Brian St. Pierre has thrown only five passes in his 8-year career as a backup with the Steelers, Ravens, Cardinals, and Panthers.

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Buffalo (1-8) @ Cincinnati (2-7)

No one expected the Bengals to fall behind the Browns in the AFC North, particularly the team’s fans. Empty seats at Paul Brown Stadium mean the first Cincy blackout since 2003. Of course, it’s tough to sell tickets when your team’s biggest star refers to the upcoming home game as the “battle of the worst.” The team from Queen City has lost six in a row, but none of those by more than 8 points. But an intimidating second-half schedule (including road games vs. the Jets, Steelers, and Ravens) means that Terrell Owens has officially thrown in the towel. The Stripes will pull this one out, but at game’s end, no Buffalo will have been harmed in the making of this production.

Woody’s Winner: Cincinnati

FACT: The Bills have won 9 in a row against the Bengals, with their last loss way back in 1988.

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Detroit (2-7) @ Dallas (2-7)

The last time these two silver-and-blue teams faced one another was in Dallas in 2006. Uncharacteristically, the Lions won that game on the road, 39-31. But last week’s loss at previously-winless Buffalo has given Motown 25 consecutive losses away from home. Woody made the unforgiveable mistake of picking Detroit last week (even though they were on the road). Truth be told, it was wishful thinking from a Michigan resident who won’t make that mistake twice. Despite their surprising victory last week, the Cowboys are still in trouble, but back-to-back wins will help Jerry Jones cut back on his aspirin intake for a few days.

Woody’s Winner: Dallas

FACT: For the 2010 season, the Lions are #1 and the Cowboys #3 in the NFC in pass attempts.

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Houston (4-5) @ N.Y. Jets (7-2)

After back-to-back wins to open the season, the Texans seemed destined to turn the corner. Now, losers of 3 in a row, they want to right the ship before somebody slaps an “S.S. Poseidon” sticker on its bow. Unfortunately, that’s a lot to ask when your opponent is considered one of the AFC’s best. Let’s face it, though, the Jets have struggled since their Week 7 bye; they were shut-out at home by Green Bay, and it took overtime for them to KO the Lions and Browns. Pass defense is the Achilles ’ heel for both teams, but will that mean more to Schaub or Sanchez? The answer, my friend, is an airliner in the wind.

Woody’s Winner: New York

FACT: The Texans are 0-4 all-time vs. the Jets, and have never scored more than 14 points against New York’s defense.

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Oakland (5-4) @ Pittsburgh (6-3)

In what promises to be a must-see game, the Raiders – surprise winners of 3 straight – ramble east to face the Steelers. Pittsburgh started the season 3-0 but have lost half their games since, despite the return of QB Ben Roethlisberger. It will be interesting to see if Oakland’s power-run game can make a dent in Steeltown’s top-ranked rush defense. Last season, the Silver and Black came into Heinz Field and put a hurting on the Black and Gold. Both teams will be Black and Blue when this one’s over, but that's the way (uh-huh, uh-huh) they like it. Uh-huh.

Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh

FACT: The Steelers (4 wins) and Steelers (2 wins) combined to capture 6 of the 7 Super Bowl crowns from 1975-1981.

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Cleveland (3-6) @ Jacksonville (5-4)

The Browns don’t need to impress me any more this season. With a tough schedule, they’ve won 3 games and have been within one score of winning 4 others. Last week’s OT loss against the Jets proved that Cleveland has something special in the works. Will they be able to pull out a win this week? The Dawgs have won their last three games in Jacksonville, so it’s possible. The Jags have earned back-to-back wins, and the fans paid them back by selling out this game and preventing another local blackout. Too bad they won’t be able to do much about a Brownout.

Woody’s Winner: Cleveland

FACT: In the previous two games (both victories), Jaguars QB David Garrard has completed 41 of 52 passes for 602 yards and 6 TDs, without throwing an interception.

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Seattle (5-4) @ New Orleans (6-3)

Beyond a Week 6 win at Chicago, the Seahawks have performed very poorly against the league’s better teams, so they’re not looking forward to facing the defending Super Bowl champions in the Superdome. The Saints will be missing some important pieces, notably S Darren Sharper and TE Jeremy Shockey, but the team should benefit from the expected return of RB Reggie Bush. Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck is playing despite a broken bone in his non-throwing hand. The Bayou Boys will blitz the ‘Hawks early and often, and if they’re successful – or even if they’re not – QB Drew Brees will make it crystal clear why Nawlins is called “the Big Easy.”

Woody’s Winner: New Orleans

FACT: RB Chris Ivory leads the Saints with 78 rushes, but has yet to score a TD on the ground.

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Atlanta (7-2) @ St. Louis (4-5)

As the only NFC team with 7 victories, the Falcons feel like they’re the team to beat. But truth be told, the Rams are just the type of team that could upset Atlanta. With a solid defense and an opportunistic offense, St. Louis has held its own this season, and they’ve won four in a row at home heading into this game. If the Dirty Birds get caught looking ahead to next week’s game against Green Bay, those broken wings will make the trip back to the ATL that much harder. Still, Hotlanta has taken on all comers with beaks out, and there’ll be bleating and bleeding when all’s said and done.

Woody’s Winner: Atlanta

FACT: Four of the Rams’ last six games will be played on the road, where they’re 0-4 this season.

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Tampa Bay (6-3) @ San Francisco (3-6)

After hitting rock-bottom with a Week 7 lost at then-winless Carolina, the 49ers have recovered under new QB Troy Smith with back-to-back victories, both at home. This week, they’ll appear at Candlestick Park yet again, as the Buccaneers sail their pirate ship into San Francisco Bay. ‘Niners RB Frank Gore should have a field day against Tampa’s 31st-ranked run defense, but his solo effort won’t be enough to keep the sea-robbers from plundering all the gold in California.

Woody’s Winner: Tampa Bay

FACT: The 49ers hold a 15-3 all-time record against the Buccaneers.

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Indianapolis (6-3) @ New England (7-2)

The Patriots have been razor-sharp at Gillette Stadium this season, winning all four of their home games. While the Colts haven’t been as spectacular as in years past, they’ve quietly compiled a 6-3 record and now sit atop the AFC South. Indianapolis expects to be without RB Joseph Addai, but the game will hinge on QB Peyton Manning’s success against a shellshocked New England pass defense. If he’s recovered from his concussion, WR Austin Collie may leave the Pats wondering who Timmy is and why he fell down a well. While they’re trying to figure it out, the points will pile up against them.

Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Indianapolis

FACT: The 3 most recent games between these teams have each been decided by fewer than 5 points.

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N.Y. Giants (6-3) @ Philadelphia (6-3)

The G-Men have lost four in a row to the Eagles, and won’t have many supporters this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Last week’s loss to the Cowboys looked like a fluke, but it may have shaken their confidence. Meanwhile, Philadelphia continues to prove that they’re a better team with Michael Vick than Kevin Kolb, avenging their Week 4 loss to the Redskins by.  hanging 59 points on them last week. They won’t find that level of success against the tough New York D, of course. But what Philly’s baseball team couldn’t do to the baseball Giants will be corrected late Sunday night, and the streets of Philadelphia will rock once again.

Woody’s Winner: Philadelphia

FACT: In 2010, Eagles QB Michael Vick has thrown 11 TDs and run for 4 more. Most surprising, he’s done so without losing a fumble or throwing an interception.

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Denver (3-6) @ San Diego (4-5)

Last week, the Broncos surprised everyone by dropping a Rocky Mountain high 49 points against the Chiefs, the most they’ve scored since the AFL-NFL merger. They won the game despite allowing KC QB Matt Cassell 469 yards through the air. San Diego QB Philip Rivers could put up similar numbers, but may be without his top WR and TE as well as rookie RB Ryan Mathews. Despite back-to-back wins and statistics that are the envy of many teams, the Lightning Bolts have a losing record. But they’re only one game behind in the AFC West, and a win against a divisional opponent would improve their playoff chances. Expect a power surge at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday night.

Woody’s Winner: San Diego

FACT: This will be the 101st regular-season game between these two teams; they’ve played twice a year annually since the AFL’s premiere season in 1960.

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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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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