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11 of the Most Dominant Seasons in Sports History

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Here’s a look at 11 of the most dominant statistical seasons in various sports at the pro and college levels.  

1. Babe Ruth, 1921

The Bambino’s 59 home runs were more than eight American and National League teams hit in 1921. He led the league in RBIs (171) and runs (177) while batting .378, walked a league-high 145 times, had 17 steals, and amassed 457 total bases, a single-season record. Ruth’s 1921 season was equally remarkable when measured by his WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a comprehensive statistic that attempts to quantify how many wins a player contributes to his team’s win total over what a fictitious “replacement player” would contribute. The statistic factors in a player’s offense, defense, position, and the year in which he played. In 1921, Ruth’s 13.9 WAR led the league, according to Fangraphs.com, and was the second-highest single-season WAR in history. 

2. Wayne Gretzky, 1981-82

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There’s little question that The Great One had the greatest individual season in NHL history, but one could debate which season was his most dominant. Gretzky, who was 20 at the start of the 1981-82 season, set a new record for goals and points while playing for the Edmonton Oilers. His 92 goals shattered the previous record of 76 set by Phil Esposito during the 1970-71 season, and his 212 points were 65 more than Mike Bossy. Another candidate for Gretzky’s best season is 1984-85. He led the NHL in goals (73) and assists (135) and set a single-season record for plus-minus (+98), a statistic that measures the difference in goals for and goals against while a player is on the ice.

3. Wilt Chamberlain, 1961-62

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Chamberlain’s incredible season with the Philadelphia Warriors is best remembered for the 100-point game he had on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks, but his dominance wasn’t limited to a single outing. Chamberlain led the league with 50.4 points and 25.6 rebounds per game. Elgin Baylor was the league’s second-highest scorer that season with 38.3 points per game, but he played in 32 fewer games. Chamberlain’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a stat developed by John Hollinger that attempts to summarize a player’s statistical accomplishments in a single number, was 31.6, the second-highest of all time. (Chamberlain’s PER was a record 31.8 the following season.) 

4. Barry Sanders, 1988

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Sanders’ junior season at Oklahoma State was one for the ages. The future Detroit Lions star rushed for 2,628 yards and 39 touchdowns, NCAA records that still stand 25 years later. Sanders, who won the Heisman Trophy that year, averaged an absurd 7.6 yards per carry and eclipsed 300 yards in four games.

5. Lew Alcindor, 1966-67

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In his varsity basketball debut as a sophomore in 1966, Alcindor broke 19 UCLA records. He averaged 29 points per game and, in a game against Washington State in February 1967, scored 61 points on 26 field goals. How dominant was the man who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? After the season, the NCAA banned dunking until 1976. Honorable mention: Pete Maravich’s senior season in 1970, when the LSU guard averaged a ridiculous 44.5 points per game. 

6. Dan Marino, 1984

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Long before the NFL turned into the pass-happy league that it is today, Marino became the first quarterback to eclipse 5000 passing yards in a season. Playing for the Miami Dolphins, he set a single-season record for touchdowns (48) in 1984 while completing 64 percent of his passes and averaging an impressive 9.0 yards per attempt. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have since broken his touchdown record, but Marino’s season still stands as one of the greatest in sports. 

7. Tiger Woods, 2000

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Woods won nine of the 20 PGA tour events he entered in 2000, including three majors, and set a tour record for lowest scoring average. None of Woods’ performances were more impressive—or dominating—than his 15-stroke victory at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Calif. Woods finished 12 under par, while runners-up Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ernie Els were both three over. Honorable mention: Byron Nelson, who won 18 of 35 PGA tournaments, including 11 in a row in 1945. 

8. Jimmy Connors, 1974

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Connors went 99-4 and won 15 tournaments in 1974, including three Grand Slam titles. Connors would’ve been the favorite to win the French Open as well, but tournament organizers barred him from participating after he signed with World Team Tennis’s Baltimore Banners. 

9. Martina Navratilova, 1983

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Navratilova went 86-1 in 1983 and captured three Grand Slam titles. Her only loss of the year was to Kathy Horvath in the semifinals of the French Open. The following year, Navratilova set a women’s tennis record with 74 consecutive wins.

10. Secretariat, 1973

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Secretariat won the Triple Crown in dominating fashion, setting records in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes that still stand today. Secretariat won the first two legs of the Triple Crown by 2.5 lengths before taking the Belmont by a record 31 lengths in 2:24. The second-fastest time in Belmont Stakes history is a full two seconds slower. Following Secretariat’s death, an autopsy revealed that his heart was an abnormally large 22 pounds, more than twice the size of a typical thoroughbred. [Note: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Secretariat as the last winner of the Triple Crown. Our apologies to Seattle Slew and Affirmed.]

11. Richard Petty, 1967

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The NASCAR legend won 27 of his 48 starts and finished in the top five in 38 races in 1967. From August to October, Petty won 10 consecutive races, which remains a Sprint Cup Series record. 

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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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