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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 GoVeg.com. 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
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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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