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7 Fun Facts About the Dothraki Language of Game of Thrones

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Gone are the days when you could have a show about a fantasy world where characters spout random, made-up gibberish as their "language." When you put a lot of thought into the costumes, weaponry, and hair styles of your invented culture, you had better give it a proper language too. That way motivated fans—and there will be fans this motivated—can figure out the system to it and even learn to speak it themselves. The producers of Game of Thrones did the smart thing when they hired language creator David Peterson to work out realistic languages for the show. Here are seven cool facts about the language from the first two seasons, Dothraki.

1. Peterson got the job to create Dothraki by winning a contest among language inventors.

The Language Creation Society was founded in 2007 as an organization where people who invent languages as an artistic and intellectual hobby (known as "conlangers" from "constructed language") could share their work and promote their craft. When producers approached them asking for help creating Dothraki, the society held an internal contest and selected Peterson's 180-page proposal (along with dictionary and audio files) to present to the producers, who hired him.

2. A lot of what's in the vocabulary and grammar of Dothraki has never appeared on the show.

With Peterson's dictionary of over 3000 words, and his description of the proper way to form a wide range of sentence types, you could say all kind of things in correct Dothraki that have never been uttered on the show. Want to compose some wedding vows? Write a poem? Translate Shakespeare? Learn Dothraki and give it a go!

3. One grammatical feature was inspired by Dwight Schrute.

Last fall NBC aired an episode of The Office where Dwight tries to convince Erin to learn Dothraki instead of French. The writers did their homework and (without consulting Peterson) managed to use valid Dothraki. They even extended the grammar in an interesting way. Peterson had not yet explicitly described how noun-verb compounds work, but he noticed the Dothraki compound examples Dwight has written on a piece of paper—foth aggendak (I throat-rip), foth aggendi (you throat-rip), foth aggenda (he/she/it throat-rips)—and decided to deem it good Dothraki. That construction is now known as a "Schrutean compound."

4. Peterson's wife and cat are lovingly honored in the vocabulary.

In a sweet gesture, Peterson's took his wife's name, Erin, and turned it into the Dothraki adjective meaning kind or good, from which is derived the verb "erinat" (to be good) and the noun "erinak" (lady, kind one). The word "okeo" is a tribute to a beloved cat, adopted by Peterson and his wife while he was beginning to work on the language. At the shelter the cat's name was "Oreo" but the way it was written on his tag made it look like "Okeo," so that's what they called him. Okeo died at 7 months from a congenital liver problem, but his name lives on as the Dothraki word for "friend."

5. If the actors ad-lib any Dothraki, it has to be retrofitted to the grammar.

The last Dothraki line of season 2 was ad-libbed by Iain Glen, who plays Jorah. In some bit of last minute shooting, the producers had sent Peterson an emergency request for a translation of "take all the gold and jewels," but the translation he provided didn't make it in time, so Glen improvised something. Later Peterson took the ad-libbed line, and figured out a way to make it proper Dothraki by deriving a couple of new words and assuming some minor mistakes on the part of Jorah (who is not a native Dothraki speaker). He managed to plausibly get the improvised line to mean "the loose valuables are for loading," which fit both the language and the situation perfectly.

6. Dothraki has tongue-twisters.

Qafak qov kaffe qif qiya fini kaf faggies fakaya.
Say it three times fast. It means "the trembling questioner crushed the bleeding boar that squished a kicking corn bunting." Hear it here.

7. Dothraki includes interesting cultural metaphors in its idioms.

Athastokhdevishizar: Nonsense (lit. "fog talking")
Hash yer dothrae chek?: How are you? ("Do you ride well?")
Shierak qiya: Comet ("bleeding star")
Ki fin yeni!: WTF! ("By what failure!")
Thirat atthiraride: To dream ("to live a wooden/fake life")
Fonas chek!: Goodbye! ("Hunt well!")

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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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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]