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What's in a (Horse) Name? No More Than 18 Characters

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Picking a name for a newborn can be an agonizing process for parents, but it's a whole lot easier than naming a racehorse. While Thoroughbred owners may not have to worry about the risk of subjecting their foals to ridicule on the playground, they must select names that sound good when shouted but that also meet strict guidelines. Here's an overview of the naming process and an explanation behind the names of some of the horses in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

The Jockey Club

Since 1894, the Jockey Club has been charged with maintaining The American Stud Book, a registry of all Thoroughbreds foaled in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, as well as Thoroughbreds imported into those countries. North American breeders register approximately 37,000 Thoroughbreds each year and the Jockey Club has an online database of more than 430,000 names in active use, all of which must first be approved by the organization's censors.

One of the most common naming conventions is to combine the names of the foal's sire and dam. For instance, 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch was the son of Gulch and Line of Thunder. A cleverer example of this sort is the name Inside Information, which was derived from Private Account and Pure Profit. Of the roughly 60,000 name requests submitted annually, about one-third are rejected because they fall into one or more of the Jockey Club's 15 classes of names that are strictly forbidden.

The Guidelines

jockey-club.jpgThe first rule of naming a horse is that a name may consist of no more than 18 letters, and spaces and punctuation marks count as letters. Eighteencharacters is acceptable (and is, in fact, a registered horse name) but Eighteen Characters is not. Other ineligible submissions include names consisting entirely of initials; names clearly having commercial, artistic, or creative significance; names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups; and names of living persons unless written permission to use their name is on file with The Jockey Club.

In an interview with NPR, Jockey Club registrar Rick Bailey said he once received written permission on White House letterhead granting permission for an owner to register a horse named Barbara Bush. In 2005, the Jockey Club rejected an owner's request to name his horse Sally Hemmings after Thomas Jefferson's slave and reputed mistress. The owner claimed the name was meant to honor Hemmings and filed suit, but the Jockey Club's decision was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Today, there's no shortage of political statements being made on the tracks, with registered horses named Obama's Promises, George Dubya, Palin Power, and McCain. Names of horses that win major races are retired permanently, while all other names may be recycled over time.

Slipping Through the Cracks

With as many names as the Jockey Club reviews, it's no surprise that some questionable names have found their way onto racing forms. Slate took an amusing look at some of the racier names that slipped past the Jockey Club's reviewers. Among them: Blow Me (1945), Spank It (1985), Date More Minors (1998), Bodacious Tatas (1985), Sexual Harassment (1997), and "“ say it aloud "“ Hardawn (1937). "It's difficult with the use of some words that meant something 20 years ago may mean something totally different with the MTV generation," Bailey told NPR. There's also Hoochiecoochiemama (1989), Panty Raid (2004), Thong Thong Thong (1989), Thong or Panties (2004), and, because the Jockey Club is an equal opportunity registry, Boxers or Briefs (2007). While it's hardly dirty, a horse named Mental Floss was registered in 2001.

Fusaichi Who?

pegasus.jpgThe Jockey Club requires an explanation for names with meanings that are not self-evident. In the case of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, they could've also used a pronunciation guide. (That's foo-sah-EE-chee.) The name proved so difficult to pronounce that some of the reporters covering the race for ABC referred to the horse simply as "Pegasus." Owner Fusao Sekiguchi combined his first name with "ichi," which means "one" in Japanese, and Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. Here are the stories behind the names of a few other famous horses:

• Big Brown: The 2008 Kentucky Derby winner was named after UPS, which allowed its trademark of the moniker to expire in 2005. Big Brown's owner, Paul Pompa Jr., was a trucking company owner and said the horse's name honored UPS's renewal of a contract with his firm. UPS, in turn, agreed to a sponsorship deal and the value of the Derby exposure for the company was estimated at $4 million.

• Giacomo: The 2005 Kentucky Derby winner was named for the son of recording artist Sting, who worked with A&M records co-founder and Giacamo's breeder Jerry Moss.

• Seattle Slew: The 1977 Triple Crown winner was named after his owners' two hometowns, Seattle and a soggy area in Florida, where a swamp is often called a slew.

• Secretariat: Elizabeth Ham, the secretary for the stables where the 1973 Triple Crown winner was born, had submitted 10 names to the Jockey Club, all of which were denied. Ham's 11th submission was finally approved.

• Seabiscuit: A sea biscuit is the name of a type of cracker eaten by sailors known as hardtack. Seabiscuit's father was named Hard Tack.

• War Admiral: The 1937 Triple Crown winner was the offspring of Man "˜o War and Brushup.

• Burgoo King: Foaled near Lexington, Ky., the 1932 Kentucky Derby winner was named for a local grocer who was famous for his burgoo stew.

The 2009 Kentucky Derby Field

While Saturday's Kentucky Derby field doesn't include any names that are likely to make you blush, there are some good stories behind some of these monikers. Papa Clem, one of the favorites, is named after owner Bo Hirsch's late father, Clement Hirsch, a legendary owner in California until his death in 2000. West Side Bernie, a son of the stallion Bernstein, is named after West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Hot Stuff's name was inspired by the owner's son-in-law, who once wore a flamboyant ski outfit that included a pink hat that read, "Hot Stuff." The outfit could make an appearance at Churchill Downs this weekend. Mine That Bird is the son of Birdstone and Mining My Own. And finally, Chocolate Candy's breeder is none other than diet guru Jenny Craig.

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

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]