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7 Fabulously Named Fossils

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When I researched the post 14 Great Names for Bugs, I found other wonderful species names, including some creatures that no longer exist. Still, extinct species are part of our history, and they get names, too. Sometimes really inventive names!

1. Bambiraptor Feinbergi

Bambiraptor feinbergi is a 75-million-year-old theropod dinosaur that was named after the Disney deer Bambi. Why? Because it is small -less than a meter long. It was later determined that the fossil found in 1993 is a juvenile example. The feinbergi for the species name is in honor of Michael and Ann Feinberg, who purchased the fossil and donated it to a museum. Photograph by Wikipedia user Thesupermat.

2. Montypythonoides Riversleighensis

In 1985, a 15-million-year-old snake fossil was designated as Montypythonoides riversleighensis. Yes, it's a python. A seven-foot-long python with huge teeth! But it was later found to be not exactly new, and was reclassified as Morelia riversleighensis.

3. Qantassaurus

Can you guess where the name Qantassaurus comes from? I bet you can guess where this dinosaur comes from, too. Yes, the fossils were found in Australia, in the forests of Victoria. It was named in 1999 in honor of the Australian airline Qantas. Qantas sponsored dinosaur hunting expeditions and shipped fossils around for the the Great Russian Dinosaurs Exhibit in the mid-'90s. And here's something I did not know: the reason that Qantas does not have a "u" after the "q" is because it is an acronym for Queensland and Northern Territory Air Service. Photograph by Jon Augier, Museum of Victoria.

4. Abra Cadabra

Dr Frank Eames and G. L. Wilkins named a new specimen of extinct bivalve seashell Abra cadabra in 1956 (or 57). They then pegged the genus and renamed it Theora cadabra in 1957. Still good, but it was later found to be an already-known species called Theora mesopotamica that was discovered in 1918.

5. Carmenelectra Shechisme

Carmenelectra shechisme is a species of extinct moth that was discovered preserved in amber. You pronounce it “Carmen Electra She Kiss Me.” The species was named by Dr. Neal Evenhuis, senior entomologist at the Hawaii Biological Survey. He designated the species in 2002 to honor the actress/model Carmen Electra, and tried to contact her about the name. In 2008, Evenhuis said,

"The offer's still good," he said. "I'll be willing to meet her."

6. Gluteus Minimus

Gluteus minimus as a species is an extinct newt found in Iowa. Specimens were first found in 1902, but not formally described until 1975. Scientists call these fossils "horse collars." The species still isn't formally assigned to any known phylum. The naming may have been a pun about the muscle gluteus maximus, since the fossils are small and resemble a butt. Or it may actually have been named for the gluteus minimus muscle, but there is no obvious reason for that. This picture is a possible, but unconfirmed picture of Gluteus minimus. Photograph by Northern Sharks.

7. Scrotum Humanum

The fossil was found in England in 1676. It was (correctly) identified as the end of a femur at that time, but (incorrectly) ascribed to a giant human. Scrotum humanum was a name given to the species by Richard Brookes in 1763, who was honestly describing what the fossil looked like. Scientists didn't think that was quite proper, but the dinosaur name that was later given to the species, Megalosaurus bucklandi, could not be formally attached to the original 1676 femur, as the argument was made that the name Scrotum humanum was never meant to be serious. Besides, the original bone was lost, and all that remains is the illustration you see here.

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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]