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The Grand Slam Single and Other Home Runs That Didn't Count

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After Nelson Cruz’s dramatic walk-off grand slam on Monday, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not it was really the first walk-off slam in postseason history. You see, Robin Ventura also hit a home run with the bases loaded to end Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, in the 15th inning no less. However, he was never credited with a home run because as he rounded first base, teammate Todd Pratt (who had been on first base) turned around and hugged Ventura. As the rest of his Mets teammates poured onto the field, it became clear that Ventura would not finish rounding the bases (check out the video here).

Officially, he was only credited with an RBI single, leading to the play being called a “grand slam single.” Luckily, Ventura’s hit still won the game, albeit by a score of 4-3 rather than 7-3. For some other ill-fated hitters, a rain delay, bad call or even a paper airplane led to home runs being called back, sometimes with serious consequences.

In fact, two other grand slams have been downgraded to singles, both because of a rule that forbids runners to pass any teammate ahead of them on the base path. Both hits – one in 1970 by Dalton Jones of the Tigers, the other in 1976 by Tim McCarver of the Phillies – went over the fence, but saw the hitter run past the runner that had been on first base. Only the hitter was called out, so in both plays they got three RBIs and were credited with a single, but no grand slam.

In 1965, a lost home run gave us one of Yogi Berra’s greatest quips. The Mets were playing in Cincinnati, where construction near Crosley Field meant that the outfield wall was concrete, but topped with plywood in an attempt to keep balls in the park. According to officials, the concrete was in play, but any ball that hit the plywood would be a home run. With the bases loaded, outfielder Ron Swoboda hit a ball that bounced off the plywood and back onto the field, where the umpires erroneously ruled it in play. Coach Yogi Berra was ejected for protesting the call and later told reporters "Anyone who can’t hear the difference between wood and concrete must be blind."

In 1929, Tigers third baseman Frank Sigafoos hit his first ever home run in a road game against St. Louis. However, the umpire had actually called a balk on the pitcher and declared a dead ball, thus nullifying the home run. It would turn out to be the only time Sigafoos would ever hit the ball out of the park, and he finished his career with no official home runs.

In 1978, a paper airplane of all things erased a John Lowenstein home run. A fan threw a paper airplane onto the field just as Angels pitcher Paul Hartzell was winding up. The umpire called time because of the interference, but Hartzell finished pitching and Lowenstein ended up taking the ball over the right field fence. However, the hit was called back because of the time out. Lowenstein would eventually walk and ended up scoring in the inning.

St. Louis outfielder Joe Medwick ended the 1937 season tied with Mel Ott for the National League lead in home runs with 31, although he still won the batting triple crown thanks to a dominating season. However, were it not for one rained out game, he would have secured the outright home run lead. In a double-header against the Philadelphia Phillies, Medwick hit one out in the first inning en route to a 10-2 Cardinals lead. Thanks to an earlier rain delay, it was getting dark and officials were worried the stadium would have to close. The Phillies started slowing the game down by taking repeated trips to the mound and requesting ball changes in a bid to force the teams off the field before the game became official in the fifth inning. The tactics worked and the umpires called the game off in the fourth inning, erasing all of the official stats and the home run that Medwick could have used to break his tie with Ott.

Interestingly, a rain-out also erased a Stan Musial home run in 1948, which ended up eliminating his chance to become the first NL triple crown winner since Medwick.

For more lost home runs, check out this exhaustive list from Retrosheet.org. And for a good laugh, check out this Onion article about Hank Aaron’s 50 lost home runs, conveniently restored as Barry Bonds was nearing the home run record.

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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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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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