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6 Baby Names You Probably Shouldn't Give Your Kid

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by Graeme Wood

Forget Apple and Pilot Inspektor. If you really want to give your kid a hard time growing up, just pick from the following list.

1. BATMAN

Venezuelans are among the world's most creative namers. In fact, according to their own government, they're too creative. In September 2007, after hearing about babies named Superman and Batman, state authorities urged parents to pick their names from an approved list of 100 common Spanish monikers. Those conventional names (such as Juanita and Miguel) quickly acquired a patrician ring, ironically giving rise to more novel names, like Hochiminh (after the Vietnamese guerilla) and Eisenhower (after the president). There are also at least 60 Venezuelans with the first name Hitler.

2. ECLIPSE GLASSES

In June 2001, a total solar eclipse was about to cross southern Africa. To prepare, the Zimbabwean and Zambian media began a massive astronomy education campaign focused on warning people not to stare at the Sun. Apparently, the campaign worked. The locals took a real liking to the vocabulary, and today, the birth registries are filled with names like Eclipse Glasses Banda, Totality Zhou, and Annular Mchombo.

3. NAAKTGEBOREN

When Napoleon seized the Netherlands in 1810, he demanded that all Dutchmen take last names, just as the French had done decades prior. Problem was, the Dutch had lived full and happy lives with single names, so they took absurd surnames in a show of spirited defiance. These included Naaktgeboren (born naked), Spring int Veld (jump in the field), and Piest (pisses). Unfortunately for their descendants, Napoleon's last-name trend stuck, and all of these remain perfectly normal Dutch names today.

4. VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY

The people of Iceland take their names very seriously. The country permits no one—not even immigrants—to take or keep foreign surnames. So what happened when esteemed Russian maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy asked to become an Icelandic citizen? Well, the government finally decided to make an exception. Vladimir Ashkenazy is now on the short list of approved Icelandic names.

5. YAZID

Imam Husayn ibn Ali is one of the holiest figures in the Shi'ite Muslim faith. In the 7th century CE, he lost his head on the orders of the Sunni caliph, Yazid, and the decapitation initiated the biggest schism in Islamic history. While the name Yazid remains common among Sunnis, it is disdained throughout the Shi'a world. The stigma attached to it is equivalent to naming one's son Stalin or Hitler. Speaking of which"¦

6. ADOLF

Memories of death camps and fascism have kept parents from christening their kids Adolf for quite some time. But one unlucky youngster acquired the name in 1949. He was the son of William Patrick Hitler—the dictator's nephew, who moved to America in the 1930s to fight against his uncle. It isn't clear why William preserved the name, but his four sons (including Alexander Adolf Hitler, now 57) made a pact to never have children in an effort to stunt der Fuehrer's family tree at its branches.

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So, what's the most "creative" baby name you've ever heard?

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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