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Hello, my name is...

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Ever since I was five, I've been pretty lukewarm on my middle name, Todd. It's not that I dislike the name, but it just never excited me (my apologies to all Todds out there). When I was still in elementary school, I even asked my mom to start paperwork to change the name to something more thrilling. I'm over that now, but I'll admit that I still occasionally think about changing my name, but it's really just because I'm bored. To temper my enthusiasm, I found seven people who had better reasons to change their names.

Millions of football fans know the name Joe Theisman (pronounced like THIGHS-man), whether its because of his win in Super Bowl XVII for the Washington Redskins, the gruesome injury that ended his football career or his abbreviated stint in the booth for ESPN's Monday Night Football. But fans may not recognize the name Joe Theisman (pronounced THEES-man), the quarterback who played at South River High School and Notre Dame. The two are, in fact, the same . So why the name change? Students and staff at Notre Dame changed the pronunciation as a campaigning tactic to get Theisman the coveted Heisman trophy. After all, it's much easier for people to chant "Theisman for Heisman" if the two words rhyme. For all that creative campaigning, though, he ended up coming in second to Stanford's Jim Plunkett.

Friday, 1069 and Mr. Microsoft Zune after the break

For a rapper, the name Dan Miller doesn't do a whole lot. So a 28-year-old entertainer changed his name to "The" Dan Miller Experience. According to Experience, he chose the first name "The" Dan (quotation marks are essential) for no reason, but the whole name change was to create an identity for himself in the entertainment world. His was called the most unusual name change presented to the court in Akron, Ohio, but he said the transition has been smooth so far. Plus he notes the added perk of the ability to name a son "The" Jimi Hendrix Experience.

A Minnesota man found his quest for a name change thwarted in the state's Supreme Court. Michael Herbert Dengler was attempting to change his name to 1069. Each digit had special significance. For example, the one means he is part of the whole of life, while nine represents "relationship to essence in the difference in the meaning when actualizing the spatially everpresent nature of life." The court rejected his attempted, but suggested that "Ten Sixty-Nine" would be acceptable. Never mind he had asked friends to call him "One Zero Six Nine."

zune4.jpgIn November, Steven Smith decided to solidify his love for Microsoft's iPod competitor Zune. So he set out to legally change his name to Microsoft Zune. He says he's not mentally ill and that he won't be deterred on his quest. The name would go well with Zune's three tattoos of the Zune logo (he also has plans for four more). You can follow his journey through the legal process on this message thread, though you should be warned that any real content is predictably difficult to find among the flame wars.

Aurianna Dague was pretty sure that was her legal name, until, at age 11, her mother went to replace her lost birth certificate. That's when they found out that the state division of vital statistics only had her registered with her father's last name, Michael. Dague/Michael and her mother are now embroiled in a long bureaucratic battle that touches on issues of minors' rights, divorce custody and the difficulties of red tape.

An Italian couple is being forced by the country's courts to find a new name for their son, Friday Germano. He was named Friday (Venerdi in Italian) just because they liked the sound ofcrusoe.jpg the name; the parents even said they would have named a daughter Friday (a move that would have resulted in endless "His Girl Friday" jokes). But an Italian tribunal told the couple to change his name to Gregory because his current name was "ridiculous or shameful" and could prevent him from forming personal relationships. They thought the name, besides being outrageously unusual, would conjure up images of Robinson Crusoe's sidekick or would frighten superstitious Italians who believed Friday to be an unlucky day. The parents have vowed to keep fighting and calling their son "Friday," though they admit that he will likely have to start using "Gregory" for official business.

Finally, vegetarian Karin Robertson wasn't just thinking of impressing her employer when she changed her name to She wanted to start discussions every time she said her name, since it would stir up debates about vegetarianism. She insists that she's not just a walking billboard for the PETA-run website and that her bosses were even surprised when she came up with the idea. She says her personal quest to start discussions has been successful, since any time she presents her drivers license, she inevitably starts talking about vegetarianism.

So readers, what's the best reason you've heard for a name change? Have any of you considered changing your names? And would you name yourself after a website?

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]