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The Quick 10: Why 10 Celebrities Picked Their Stage Names

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It's common knowledge that celebrities often change their names because they want a more memorable moniker or a name that will look great on a marquee (or movie poster, these days). But why did they pick the names they would be known by for the rest of their lives? Let the Q10 fill you in"¦

lucy1. Joan Crawford's real name was Lucille LeSueur. Louis B. Mayer had her change her name because he thought the latter half of it sounded too much like "Le Sewer." Instead of letting her choose her own name, MGM publicity head held a contest in Movie Weekly that allowed fans to give her a new name. Lucille hated "Joan Crawford," thinking that "Crawford" sounded too much like "crawfish."
2. Cyd Charisse started life as Tula Elice Finklea. Despite the less-than-glam name, studio execs didn't exactly have to rename Cyd because "Sid" was her childhood nickname. It came about when one of her younger siblings was trying to pronounce "Sis" and it came out "Sid" instead. MGM changed the spelling to "Cyd" just to make her seem more exotic and mysterious. As for her last name, she came by that the usual way too: she married Nico Charisse and took his last name.

3. Jamie Foxx was born Eric Marlon Bishop. He changed his name when he started doing standup because he found that female comics often got to perform first "“ he thought "Jamie" was ambiguous enough that they wouldn't know if he was male or female and would at least put him mid-list somewhere. "Foxx" was in tribute to Redd Foxx, who also picked his own name"¦

4. Redd Foxx, AKA John Elroy Sanford (yup), got his first name because of the reddish tone in his hair. In fact, he was friends with Malcolm X, who used to call him "Chicago Red." When Redd started working in the entertainment business, he chose his new last name because of MLB power hitter Jimmie Foxx.

gaga5. Lady Gaga was known by a considerably longer name just a few years ago: Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. When music producer Rob Fusari was helping her develop an album, Queen's 1984 song "Radio Ga-Ga" came on the radio. He immediately made a connection between their old hit and her new sound, saying, "You are so Radio Gaga." Thus, Lady Gaga was born.
6. Judy Garland was also born with a decidedly unglamorous name: Frances Ethel Gumm. She and her siblings used to do vaudeville shows together as "The Gumm Sisters," but the audience would laugh every time their name was announced. Vaudeville veteran George Jessel eventually suggested that they change their names for that very reason, and Frances chose "Judy" based on a Hoagy Carmichael song. How the surname came about is really unknown "“ at least four versions of why it was chosen exist. One is that it came from Carole Lombard's character Lily Garland in the movie Twentieth Century. Another is that George Jessel once declared the sisterly trio was "prettier than a garland of flowers." And still another is that they chose it to flatter drama critic Robert Garland. So, take your pick. I like the garland of flowers story, myself.

7. Nina Simone used to be Eunice Kathleen Waymon, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it? When she started playing at the Midtown Bar & Grill in Atlantic City, she started going by the name we know her as today. The "Nina" was adapted from the Spanish "niña," meaning "little girl," because it's what an old boyfriend used to call her. "Simone" was for French actress Simone Signoret.

8. Stevie Wonder's real name was Steveland Morris, but because of his insane talent, people started calling him the little boy wonder when he first showed up on the Motown scene at the age of 10. Berry Gordy, Jr. capitalized on this and named him Little Stevie Wonder for his first Motown contract.

dita9. Dita Von Teese was born Heather Renee Sweet, which also sounds like a totally made up name. She took "Dita" from German actress Dita Parlo and wanted to just do a one-name kind of a thing, but when she landed the cover of Playboy, the execs at the magazine insisted that she use a last name. Not wanting to be "Dita Sweet," she randomly picked a name out of the phonebook. It was Von Treese. Playboy typoed it, and she ended up liking that version even better.
10. Nikki Sixx has a not-very rockstar name: Frank Carlton Serafino Ferrana, Jr. When he first started touring with a band, he called himself Nikki London because the band he was in was called London, but eventually he decided that was maybe not the best idea. He was considering new last names when he stumbled across his then-girlfriend's scrapbook; she had documented a time when she dated a musician from a band called Jon and the Nightriders. The musician's name was Niki Syxx. "I stole his name," Nikki admits. "I just liked it."

If you could pick your own stage name, what would it be? I can't think of anything that doesn't make me sound like a porn star, so I'll defer to you guys. Inspire me!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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