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11 Classic Nicknames (And the People Who Hated Them)

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We've all been given a nickname we weren't too fond of. These public figures can relate.

1. Muscle Hamster

Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin picked up his unique "Muscle Hamster" nickname while in college at Boise State. According to USA Today, a teammate called Martin's girlfriend, who was a gymnast, the name.

So I stood up for her, like, 'Hey, man, she's not a muscle hamster!' And he said, 'You're a muscle hamster, too.' So they called us the muscle hamsters."

The name stuck with him after someone mentioned it to ESPN. And despite proclaiming publicly that he doesn't want to use it, calling it the "worst nickname ever," Martin just can't shake it.

2. Fatty

It's not hard to understand where Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's nickname came from. Weighing in at more than 300 pounds (although he lost 80 after a health scare), Arbuckle said that the nickname had dogged him since elementary school. He would insist that off-screen, everyone call him Roscoe and would brusquely respond to being called Fatty by saying "I got a name, you know." Other nicknames attributed to him included "The Prince of Whales" and "The Balloonatic."

3. Big Baby

In 2010, then-Boston Celtics player Glen Davis publicly said that he was looking to drop his "Big Baby" moniker and pick up something new. It's said that he got the nickname during pee-wee football when Davis, too big to play with his peers, started crying among his older teammates. Davis, however, has said that the nickname has been with him from day one, claiming to have been 14 pounds at birth. Either way, the nickname has stuck despite his efforts to change it and he's seemed to have embraced it. Davis' official website? IAmBigBaby.com.

4. Vanilla Ice

Robert Van Winkle only gained fame by rapping under the name Vanilla Ice, which contributed to his hit "Ice Ice Baby." But Winkle didn't actually like his nickname when his friends first pinned it on him. In an interview with Salon, he said the name came about when he was the only white person in a breakdancing group he danced in as a teen. Everyone else called him Vanilla and when he objected, they just said it more until he was stuck with it.

5. Betty Bebop

When singer Betty Carter first joined Lionel Hampton's band in 1948, she was using the stage name Lorraine Carter. Impressed with her scatting ability, Hampton nicknamed her "Betty Bebop." But Carter said that she was actually furious about the name, because she didn't want to be confined to bebop performance and she was worried bebop musicians had a reputation for being irresponsible. But the name stuck and Carter eventually gave in and took on the "Betty" part for good.

6. Caligula

Caligula may be famous as a tyrant, whose tenure as Roman emperor is defined more by his own extravagance than his accomplishments. But the origins of his name are far less intimidating. As a child, Gaius Caesar would accompany his father, Germanicus, on military expeditions. He was outfitted with small boots, "caligulae" in Latin, in the camps to match the rest of the soldiers. That led to his nickname, which he was said to have despised.

7. Baby Face

Standing at just 5 foot 4 and with a youthful face, George Nelson (real name: Lester Joseph Gillis) couldn't have argued much with his "Baby Face" alias. He was given the nickname by gang members during his teens and despite his best efforts was never able to lose it. His unhappiness with the name was played up to great effect in O Brother Where Art Thou, where he was portrayed as bipolar and slipped into depression at the mention of "Baby Face."

8. Pretty Boy

Another gangster who was unhappy with his nickname, Charles Arthur Floyd preferred to be called "Choc," because he was so fond of Oklahoma's Choctaw beer. But after a victim of one of Floyd's robberies described him as a "Pretty Boy," that name took hold with the media (another story says that a prostitute gave him his nickname).

9. El Nino

When Spanish soccer player Fernando Torres first started playing professionally for Atletico Madrid at age 16 (he had been in the club's youth system for years), he picked up the nickname "El Nino," or "The Kid." He later revealed that he disliked the nickname, because he thought it showed that nobody else in the clubhouse had bothered to learn his real name. In fact, in a later interview he said that he often felt alone in the locker room and thought he might have been threatening to the older players. He seems to have taken to the name—his 2009 autobiography was titled Torres: El Nino: My Story.

10. Madge

In a 2009 interview with David Letterman, pop star Madonna revealed that she actually doesn't like her alias of Madge—and she left England just so she wouldn't have to hear it again. Even though her ex-husband Guy Ritchie insisted that it was short for "Her Majesty," Madonna said the name could also mean "like a boring, middle-aged housewife."

11. Pele

Edison Arantes do Nascimento first picked up his legendary nickname "Pele" in grade school, although stories differ on how it came about. When classmates started using it, Pele thought it might be an insult—he was even suspended for two days for punching a classmate who used the name. He later found out that it had no real meaning (it does translate to "miracle" in Hebrew) and he adopted it for good.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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