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Nominative Determinism: Yes, That's His Real Name

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Nominative determinism is the theory that a person's name has some influence over what they do with their life. Keep that in mind as you read this story. A young red-tailed hawk fell out of a nest that was being monitored by a webcam in Portland. A police officer was able to put the bird in a box and take it to the Audubon Society. His name? Officer McCageor "Cage" Byrd. This is not quite an example of nominative determinism, but it's the perfect name for this particular story. Now, if Cage Bird were to become an ornithologist or a pet shop owner, that would be nominative determinism. Other terms for the same phenomenon are aptonyms or aptronyms, although those words do not necessarily connote a career path.


Two names in high positions in the British legal system are exceedingly appropriate. Igor Judge (pictured) is the current Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, which means he is the chief judge. You my think of him as Judge Judge, but please address him as Lord Judge. John Laws is the British Lord Justice of Appeal, which is also a judge position. I'm not sure whether addressing him as Lord Justice or Lord Laws is more correct, since the case of Igor Judge is no help in figuring it out. Over here in America, Jennifer Justice is a music industry lawyer. The most awesome legal name I know belongs to Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Law Power. Image by Wikipedia user Bencherlite.


Meteorologist Amy Freeze has to constantly answer the question, and yes, that's her real name. She works for WABC in New York City. Meteorologist Larry Sprinkle is a longtime weatherman, recently marking 25 years at WCNC in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Retired New York meteorologist Storm Field came by both his name and career honestly, because his father Frank Field was a meteorologist first. His sister Allison overcame her normal name to also became a meteorologist.


The medical field has unlimited opportunities for nominative determinism because of the many specialties. Pictured here, Dr. Richard (Dick) Chopp is an Austin urologist who is known for performing vasectomies. Really. Other doctors at the same urology clinic include Dr. Hardeman and Dr. Wang. Dr. Lee Popwell is a chiropractor. Dr. Richard Payne is a recognized expert in pain relief, particularly in terminal patients.
Dr. Gary Alter is a plastic surgeon and urologist, which qualifies him to do gender reassignment surgery, as well as the more common cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. Dr. Russell Brain was an eminent British neurologist who wrote about the brain and edited a medical journal dedicated to neurology called Brain.
Dr. Stephanie Payne is a dentist. As is Dr. Dan C. Pullen, Dr. Mark Pullen, and Dr. Reid Pullen. Let's don't forget Dr. Lee Pullen, Dr. David Pullen, and Dr. Kyle Pullen. But the best dentist name of all is
Dr. Randall W. Toothaker.

Dr. Scott Pett is a veterinarian in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. Dr. Kim Furr takes care of animals in Easley, South Carolina.


Ornithologist Carla Dove (shown here) is in charge of the Division of Birds at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. Retired biology professor Mitchell A. Byrd is an ornithologist who spends his time with various conservation organizations, working to save eagles, falcons, and other raptors. Nick Rock was once the head of the Geology Department at the University of Western Australia. He lives on in a memorial scholarship named in his honor.
Ron Rumble is an acoustical and vibration engineer, who once had a consulting company in Australia with his name. It merged with another company in 2008.
Professor Peter Jonathan Fryer is the head of the chemical engineering department at the University of Birmingham. His field of research is the food industry. James W. Dean is not a movie star, but the dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC. You can call him Dean Dean.


Prince Fielder (pictured) plays baseball for the Milwaukee Brewers. His position is first base. His father, Cecil Fielder, was a pro as well. Of course, you must be familiar with the appropriateness of world-record sprinter Usain Bolt's name. Scott Speed is a race car driver, as is Lake Speed. I don't think they are related to each other.
In the Russian language, female surnames often end on "-ova," which sounds like "over" in English, which gives us many punny athlete aptronyms. Svetlana Filippova was a springboard diver on the Russian team at the Beijing Olympics. Marina Stepanova is, of course, a hurdler. And Anna Smashnova is Israel's top tennis player.


David Quick is a journalist in Charleston, South Carolina. That's because you can't really make a living running marathons, which is what he also does -and he writes about running! As a business reporter, Louise Story writes stories for the New York Times.


Millions of men have served in the military, whether they make a career of it or not. Still, you have to wonder if one's name might spur enlistment, from Lieutenant General Sir Manley Power in the 18th century to Lance Corporal Rad Heroman in the 21st century.
Marietta Clinkscales was a piano teacher whose pupils included a young boy who later became known as Duke Ellington.
Anne and Frank Webb founded the British Tarantula Society.
Ed and Sharon House are realtors in Las Vegas.
These are just examples of thousands of people who have names appropriate for their chosen careers. If you have a favorite not listed here, please tell us about them in the comments!

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]