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The Most Controversial Match In World Cup History

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dpa/Corbis

When Algeria lines up for their crucial World Cup Round of 16 match against Germany, it will be the first time the African nation has ever participated outside the tournament's group stage. They had a chance in 1982, but a dubious result between two other nations denied them the opportunity. That match was so controversial, fans burnt flags and money, television commentators begged viewers to change the channel, and FIFA eventually changed the World Cup's format to prevent anything like it from ever happening again.

One of the teams in that controversial match was West Germany, which makes Algeria's upcoming showdown all the more dramatic. Let's go back to the 1982 World Cup to find out what exactly happened on the pitch in Gijón between West Germany and Austria. Take us to Spain, Naranjito!

In 1982, West Germany were the most dominant force in world soccer. After winning UEFA Euro 1980, they cruised through qualification and easily earned a spot at the World Cup in Spain. Their first match was against Algeria, a team that West Germany could have beaten while chomping on cigars. Those aren't my words — a member of the West German team actually said they would be able to trounce Algeria while enjoying cigars. Another German reportedly boasted, "We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs."

When they actually played the match, however, there would be no dedications to Fräuleins or German Shepherds. Algeria beat West Germany 2-1, turning the entire tournament on its head. No African nation had ever even won a World Cup match until four years prior (when Tunisia topped Mexico 3-1), and now Algeria had put a global superpower on their keisters.

As group play continued, West Germany rebounded and thrashed Chile 4-1, while Algeria stumbled against Austria and lost 0-2. Then, on June 24th, Algeria squeaked out a 3-2 victory over Chile and earned a spot behind Austria at the top of the group with four points (back then, a win was only worth two points). West Germany still had their last group match to play against Austria, scheduled for June 25th. The Algerians had 24 hours to wait and hope for either a draw or an Austrian victory (a West German win by three goals or more would have also sufficed, as it would have knocked Austria below Algeria via goal difference).

The Algerians had reason to hope, too. Austria shocked West Germany 3-2 in the round of 16 of the previous World Cup (a.k.a. "The Miracle of Cordoba"), and before the 1982 match, Georg Schmidt, Austria's manager, said, "My players always find a special motivation against Germany." A valiant effort from the Austrians looked to be in the cards before kick-off, and not the result that would send both European teams through: a narrow West German win.

But then the match started at El Molinón stadium in Gijón. Horst Hrubesch (the pride of Hamm, Germany) scored in the 11th minute. And then...well, not much else happened. It soon became evident that the 1-0 scoreline was on remarkably sturdy ground. Some half-chances fell to the teams here and there, but they looked content to pass the ball around and conserve energy. According to the Guardian, at half-time, "one of the German players makes a beeline for an Austrian...puts an arm round his shoulder and engages him in discourse." Rumors abound that the two teams had decided at half-time that 1-0 was how it would end.

Now, here comes a big fat hedge: There is no concrete proof that the two teams conspired to achieve this result. It's not like they formed a circle around the ball and sang "Im Mӓrzen der Bauer" as the clock neared 90'. It's entirely possible that the world just witnessed an especially drab match, and not a monumental loogie to the face of sportsmanship. It's even more likely that both teams knew this result was mutually beneficial, and they decided to conserve energy and subconsciously suppressed their killer instinct (not easy, given the participants).

BUT...a hedge is different than a pardon. The Guardian compiled some stats to see just how lackadaisical the play was:

Opta have a detailed archive of every World Cup game since 1966, and there are some belting statistics for [the second half]. There were only three shots, none on target. West Germany made only eight tackles, around one every six minutes. Both sides had an overall pass-completion ratio in excess of 90%, a level usually reserved for people like Xavi and Paul Scholes – and, more tellingly, Jamie Carragher, the king of the no-risk pass. Austria had a 99% success rate with passes in their own half; West Germany's was 98%.

You can also check out these "highlights" and decide for yourself. (Man of the Match has to go to the video editor responsible for culling anything approaching competitive play from the available footage):

If you don't think something fishy was going on, spectators and commentators at the match certainly did. A huge section of Algerian fans in the stadium waved money and lit it on fire as soon as they suspected foul play. A German supporter in attendance reportedly burnt his country's flag and Robert Seeger, the man doing play-by-play for Austrian TV, asked viewers at home to change the channel. Afterwards, "a group of West German fans went to the team hotel to forcibly articulate their interpretation of the game...the players bombarded them with water bombs from the balcony."

The match is still known as "The Disgrace of Gijón" or, to those who have no qualms about equating sports with war, the "Anschluss."

The Algerians demanded that FIFA investigate the result, but the federation's three-and-a-half hour meeting about the subject returned no proof of tampering or illegality. Instead, they changed the rules to make it so the last match of each World Cup group stage happen simultaneously in the hopes of preventing any sort of collusion ahead of time. Obviously, this is little consolation to the Algerians, who in 1982 had to watch West Germany make it to the World Cup Final from the discomfort of their homes.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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