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The Cleveland Curse

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Help.


Somebody. Anybody.


Dr. Phil. Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo. Buffy The Vampire Slayer. We're not picky.


No need for archaeologists to take a flyer on finding a hellmouth in Belize. We got you covered.


Basketball season. Football season. Baseball season. Any time of year will do.

We do not yet have a losing Lingerie Football League team but only because that inaugural season of the Cleveland Crush (I wish I were making that up) doesn't roll around until Fall.

You may think this is all coincidence, a cyclical downturn. You may think it's no reason to suspect forces of evil at work.

Then please explain why presently the city's only winning team is the American Hockey League's Lake Erie Monsters.

Sorry, this city needs a "slayer." We thought we had one in Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert when he sent the Cleveland Curse packing in July. Stood right up and told the demons to hitch a ride to South Beach with LeBron James, he did.

Condemned them to walk the earth with James wherever his life of misery took him.

In a singular moment that rallied the rejected, Gilbert guaranteed the Cavaliers would win a NBA championship before the Miami Heat would.

"The self-declared former 'King' will be taking the 'curse' with him down south," Gilbert wrote in a statement on the team's website. "And until he does 'right' by Cleveland and Ohio, James [and the town where he plays] will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma."

So...how's that going?

• The Indians lost 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1978. They finished last in Major League Baseball in home attendance, which is not easily accomplished outside of Pittsburgh.

• The NFL Browns finished 5-11 in consecutive seasons and fired a head coach for the fourth time since 1999. They are denying reports their latest coach, Pat Shurmur, came from a temp agency.

• Jim Brown, the greatest player in franchise history and maybe the greatest player in NFL history, got crossways with the organization and was a no-show for the September induction of 16 Hall of Fame Browns into the organization's stadium Ring of Honor.

• Gilbert's Cavaliers own the worst record in the NBA. They have lost 31 of 32 games. They have set a team record for consecutive road losses and have the record for consecutive losses overall in their crosshairs. In a "contest" against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers scored 57 points and lost by 55 points. Steven Seagal movies don't receive that kind of drubbing in the voting for Oscar nominations.

• Just recently my newspaper, The Plain Dealer, conducted a phone interview with Washington Generals' founder Red Klotz, whose team lost 2,495 consecutive exhibitions to the Harlem Globetrotters before winning a game in 1971. And we're calling him for advice.

• Did we mention the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns' most hated rival, are in the Super Bowl looking for their seventh Lombardi Trophy in eight tries? Pittsburgh's "One for the Thumb" slogan was hard enough to take in Cleveland. When we get around to "One for the Big Toe" Cleveland sports fans can only hope the Rapture occurs during the Super Bowl national anthem.

Gilbert is still popular among people here for puffing out his chest and telling LeBron James where to go. He called James a quitter. He called him a traitor.

Actually, he did more than call him one.

Gilbert. who also owns Fathead LLC, discounted the LeBron James' vinyl wall sticker to $17.41. Not coincidentally, 1741 is the year Benedict Arnold was born.


Gilbert made Clevelanders feel good the night of "The Decision," the hour-long exercise in narcissism staged by James on ESPN. He made everybody else say, "Whoa, was this guy channeling Sam Kinison or what? With such a vindictive owner running things, no wonder James got out of there."


His other mistake was in telling the Curse where to go. Curses leave when they're ready to leave. They do not take direction well as Cubs fans have learned in dealing with the Curse of the Billy Goat.


"You simply don't deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal," Gilbert wrote that July night...."I PROMISE you that our energy, focus, capital, knowledge and experience will be directed at one thing and one thing only: DELIVERING YOU the championship you have long deserved and is long overdue...."

Sure enough, people in Cleveland deserve a championship as Gilbert said.

It's been since 1964 when the Browns won the NFL title. Then Jim Brown retired. At age 29.

The Indians haven't won since 1948. The Cavaliers have never won.

Former Browns owner Art Modell, still Public Enemy No.1, moved the team to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The curse stayed. Modell won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. The Browns have played one postseason game since. (Good guess, yes, they lost. To Pittsburgh of all teams. After leading 24-7 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.)


Former Browns coach Bill Belichick didn't win in Cleveland and was roundly dismissed as an anti-social mope. He's won three Super Bowls in New England. When Stephen Hawking gets stuck trying to solve the mysteries of the universe, it's believed he calls Bill Belichick.

Based on all that and also on the crackling fire and hellish sounds heard under our city streets, you'd have to say LeBron James' chances to pick confetti out of his hair look pretty good.

Bad Company

Cleveland doesn't have the market cornered on depressing years in sports or on depressing championship droughts.

Circa 1972 in Philadelphia comes instantly to mind. The NBA's Sixers won just nine games in '72-73 (still a record). The NFL Eagles of 1972 won just twice and the Phillies went 59-97.

The difference: Philadelphia was only five years removed from winning a NBA title with Wilt Chamberlain.

ESPN put together a list of the most tortured sports cities a few years back. For good reason, Cleveland won.

Here was ESPN's Top Ten, with my comments. I took into account recent changes of fortune where applicable:

10. Houston. The Astros make Houston's spot on the list possible. But at least the Rockets won two championships while Michael Jordan was off swinging and missing at curve balls.

9. San Diego. OK, 91 seasons with only one championship. But life is so good otherwise, it wouldn't be on my list. I lived there. Fans only truly get upset when the Chargers lose or when the ocean breeze makes it difficult to light the beach fire pit on the first try.

8. Atlanta. It belongs in the conversation for all the losing that's gone on there: 147 seasons and one title. But a World Series 15 years ago and all that excellence from the Braves has kept hopes fairly fresh.

7. Seattle. Lost more than a basketball team to Oklahoma City. Lost Kevin Durant. Seattle did win a NBA title 31 years ago, which, in Cleveland and Buffalo, would feel like just yesterday.

6. Minneapolis. The Twins won the World Series in 1987 and 1991. If that happened in Cleveland, they'd immortalize everyone with a statue including the bullpen catcher.

5. Boston. OK, the Red Sox ended the Curse of the Bambino with a World Series title in this decade. That was a long drought. But The Celtics, Patriots, Bruins? This is a city unworthy of any miserable list.

4. Chicago. I know all about the Curse of the Billy Goat and how the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. But now the Blackhawks have won. So have the White Sox. So did the Bears of Mike Ditka. Do we really need to mention Michael Jordan and the Bulls?

3. Buffalo. Hasn't won anything in 45 years. Gets the seat at the head table next to Cleveland at the roast.

2. Philadelphia. The Phillies won in 2008, ending a 25-year title drought. The key word there is "end." Please leave the list immediately.

1. Cleveland. Last NFL title: 1964. Last World Series championship: 1948. Last NBA title: never.
Not that anyone is counting.

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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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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