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26 Things You Might Not Know Were Named After Places

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You know the names. You might not know where they came from.

1. Cheddar Cheese
This ubiquitous cheese gets its name from the town of Cheddar in southwest England. Unlike other cheeses named for their town of origin, like Gorgonzola and Parmesan, Cheddar is not covered by a Protected Designation of Origin, which means no matter where it is produced it can still legally be called Cheddar cheese.

2. Duffel Bags
While the phrase duffel bag now stands for a particular style of bag, they were originally named for the thick Duffel cloth they were made out of, which was produced in the town of Duffel, Belgium. Duffle coats are named for the same cloth.

3. Lyme Disease
While this disease has been present for thousands of years, it wasn’t until a large outbreak of cases in the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme, Connecticut, during the 1970s that the full syndrome was recognized.

4. Chihuahuas
These popular tiny dogs get their name from the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, where excavations of pottery bearing their likeness prove the breed was in the area more than 1,400 years before the first Europeans arrived.

5. The Rosetta Stone
This invaluable stone, which led to the understanding of Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, was rediscovered by Napoleon’s forces in the Egyptian town of Rashid, or as the French called it, Rosette (Rosetta.)

6. Rugby
According to legend, this sport was invented when a pupil at Rugby School in England picked up the ball and ran with it during a soccer game. What is certain is that the first written rules for the game originated at the school in 1845.

7. Turquoise
This semi-precious stone was originally mined in Persia, but got its name from the French word for the Turkish merchants who first sold it in Europe. Turkeys (the birds) originated in America but get their name for the same reason.

8. Jalapeños
While known in its native Mexico as huachinango or chile gordo, to the rest of the world Jalapeños get their name from the town of Xalapa or Jalapa.

Pony image via Shutterstock

9. Shetland Ponies
These small ponies are native to the Shetland Islands located northeast of mainland Scotland. Their stocky build made them perfect for the harsh climate of the subarctic islands, where their ancestors have been kept and bred since the Bronze Age.

10. The Tuxedo
We owe the popularity of this formal dinner jacket to King Edward VII, but the name is all American. When an American friend of the then-Prince of Wales wore the new style to the Tuxedo Park Club in New York, the style caught on among the members, and the jacket became synonymous with the club.

11. Sherry
This fortified wine is named for the Anglican version of its town of origin, Jerez (or Xeres) de la Frontera in Spain. Like champagne, sherry is a Protected Designation of Origin, and only wine from that area of Spain can be labeled sherry in Europe.

12. Paisley
The distinctive paisley pattern is originally from India or Persia, and has been in use in the Middle East and Asia since around 200 AD. When its European popularity boomed and imports couldn’t keep up with the demand, various cities produced their own, including the town of Paisley in Scotland.

13. Chantilly Lace
Famous in popular culture for the Big Bopper’s hit of the same name in 1958, this style of lace-making dates to the 1600s. While the majority of the lace was actually produced elsewhere, it gets its name from the town of Chantilly in France.

14. Marathons
The name for the 26.2 mile race famously comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek runner who supposedly ran from the city of Marathon to Athens to announce that they had defeated the Persians in battle.

15. Rottweilers
These large dogs are named for the town they originated in, Rottweil in Germany, where they were used to herd livestock and pull carts.

16. Hamburgers
Minced beef originated in Europe in the 1400s. When immigrants from Germany came to America, they brought the popular “Hamburg steak,” cheap patties mixed with spices made famous by that seaside town.

17. Lesbianism
The term lesbian was first used to describe gay women in the 1890s, for the Greek island of Lesbos. That's where the ancient poet Sappho lived with, and wrote about her love for, a group of women. In 2008, inhabitants of the island tried to “reclaim” the name in court, insisting that only people from Lesbos fit the term.

18. The Ebola virus
This deadly disease was named in 1976 for the Ebola River in Zaire, which was near where the first outbreak occurred.

Pilsner image via Shutterstock

19. Pilsner Beer
This pale lager was created in response to the dissatisfaction with the quality of beer in the present-day Czech Republic during the early 1800s. In 1842, a brewer in the town of Pilsen created a new style of beer that was a big hit.

20. Balaclavas
The favorite headgear of skiers and robbers alike, the balaclava was worn by English troops unaccustomed to the bitter cold Russian weather during the Crimean War. Despite not being called balaclavas until almost 30 years later, the name comes from the town of the same name in present-day Ukraine where an important battle was fought.

21. Varnish
The resin from ancient forests was first used to make varnish in Berenice, Libya, which eventually became Vernix in Latin, from which we get the modern word.

22. Ascot/Cravat
The must-have neckband of the well-to-do in the 1800s, the ascot is a type of cravat named for its pervasive presence at the Ascot Racecourse in England. The cravat itself is named for the French word for Croatia, natives of which popularized the style at the court of Louis XIII.

23. Uranium
Despite having nothing to do with Uranus, in 1789 German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth named this newly discovered element after the seventh planet, which had itself been discovered only eight years before.

24. Denim
The popular fabric was originally a variation on a serge fabric made by the André family in Nîmes, France. The name “serge de Nîmes” was eventually shortened to denim.

25. The Charleston
One of the biggest dance crazes of all time, the Charleston was popularized in a song of the same name in the 1923 Broadway show Runnin' Wild. While the choreography for the show was most likely original, the style came from the Juba dance moves that originated among slaves on plantations, variations of which remained popular with African-Americans in southern cities like Charleston, South Carolina.

26. Limousine

Limo image via Shutterstock

The first limos, built in 1902, got their name from the French region Limousin, either because people thought the cloth covering on the back of the cars resembled the distinctive hoods worn by the shepherds there, or because limousine drivers wore similar cloaks to protect themselves from the elements.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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