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17 Famous Literary Characters Almost Named Something Else

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“Bladorthin the Grey” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Gandalf the Grey,” does it? Good thing J.R.R. Tolkien decided to do some name swapping. Turns out he’s in good company: here’s the story of Gandalf and other famous characters who experienced an identity change before publication.

1. The only Pevensie child who escaped from the first drafts of the Chronicles of Narnia series with his name intact was Peter. In an early version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter is the youngest child - not the oldest - and his siblings are Ann, Martin and Rose.

2. It’s a small change, but a significant one, especially to arachnologists. In Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White originally named his beloved eight-legged character “Charlotte Epeira” after the Grey Cross spider, or Epeira sclopetaria. He later discovered that he had mistaken the identity of the spider that served as his muse: she was actually a barn spider, not a Grey Cross. Accordingly, White matched the character's name with her species, Araneus cavaticus, making his wise webspinner's name “Charlotte A. Cavatica.”

3. Bladorthin the Grey? Yeah, not so much.

But that seems to have been J.R.R. Tolkien’s original thinking. In pencilled notes on early drafts of The Hobbit, Tolkien noted that “Gandalf” was the name of the chief dwarf and “Bladorthin” was, of course, the great wizard. After the author decided to switch the names around, Bladorthin became the name of a dead king who is mentioned just once in all of Tolkien’s prolific writings.

4. Philip Marlowe is one of the toughest private eyes ever created, so you might agree that naming him “Mallory” may not have done justice to his ruggedness. Raymond Chandler originally wanted to pay homage to English author Sir Thomas Malory, but got points with his wife when he listened to her opinion that “Marlowe” was the better name.

5. “Puckle,” Hermione Granger’s original surname, “did not suit her at all,” J.K. Rowling once commented. Deciding that her heroine needed a name that was more appropriate for her serious nature, Rowling eventually came up with something that doesn’t make you think of that taste you get in your mouth when you eat Sour Patch Kids.

6. Would Marshall the Paranoid Android have been as popular as Marvin? That's what Douglas Adams called his depressed robot in early drafts, after friend and comedian Andrew Marshall. Adams describes Marshall thusly:

“You’d be with a bunch of people in the pub and Andrew would come up and you’d say, 'Andrew, meet John, meet Susan...' Everybody would make introductions, and Andrew would stand there. And once everybody else had come to a finish in whatever they were saying, Andrew would then say something so astoundingly rude that it would completely take everybody’s breath away. … I would go over to him and say, 'Andrew, what on Earth was the point in saying that?' And he would say, 'What would be the point of not saying it? What’s the point of anything?'”

7. John Falstaff, the chubby knight who makes appearances in three of Shakespeare’s plays, was called “John Oldcastle” in Henry IV, Part 1 before descendants of the real Sir John Oldcastle complained.

8. Another small but significant change: Charlotte Brontë’s Villette protagonist had her chilly surname swapped for another one. Said Brontë, “At first - I called her ‘Lucy Snowe (spelt with an ‘e’) which ‘Snowe’ I afterwards changed to ‘Frost.’ Subsequently - I rather regretted the name change and wished it ‘Snowe’ again. A cold name she must have.”

9. Author Eoin Colfer once thought the title character of his Artemis Fowl books would go by the name Archimedes. In his words:

“Artemis was originally Archimedes, because I wanted a classic Greek name that would have an air of intelligence and genius about it. But I thought people would think it's a book about Archimedes. Artemis was the goddess of hunting. But the name was sometimes, very seldom, given to boys as kind of an honorific if their fathers were great hunters. Fowl was because there's an Irish name Fowler, and fowl sounds like foul. Because he's nasty, or he was in the beginning. It's the nasty hunter basically.”

10. Scarlett O’Hara was almost named Pansy. In fact, the iconic character didn’t receive her iconic name until just before the story went to print.

11. In early drafts of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly was named Connie Gustafson. Side note: Truman Capote is thought to have based Holly on several different women, including Gloria Vanderbilt, Oona Chaplin, and Walter Matthau's wife, Carol Grace. His own mother was probably also an inspiration.

12. Bram Stoker’s notes on Dracula reveal that he had been referring to his famous vampire as “Count Wampyr.” During research, Stoker came across Vlad II of Wallachia, who went by the name Vlad Dracul. He was intrigued enough to change his character’s name.

13. Similarly, Arthur Conan Doyle made notes that indicated he'd been considering the name “Sherringford” for Detective Holmes.

14. If that doesn’t throw you for enough of a loop, consider this: Holmes’ assistant was originally going to be called "Ormond Sacker." Arthur Conan Doyle decided the name was a bit too bizarre and changed it to the decidedly duller “John H. Watson.”

15. Before “Nancy Drew” was decided upon, names kicked around for the plucky young heroine included Stella Strong, Diana Drew, Diana Dare, Nan Nelson, Helen Hale and Nan Drew.

16. Small Sam, Little Larry and Puny Pete were all in the running before Charles Dickens settled on “Tiny Tim” for the sickly sad sack in A Christmas Carol.

17. Little Orphan Annie was nearly Little Orphan Otto, until Harold Gray’s publisher at the newspaper syndicate suggested his character looked more female than male and told him to stick a skirt on it.

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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]