Original image
Robert L. Curry

11 Organisms Scientifically Named After Fictional Characters

Original image
Robert L. Curry

Scientific names hail from a variety of sources, with the realm of fiction providing hundreds of creative titles for various organisms over the years. Here are 11 of the most unusual.

1. Oedipina complex

Encyclopedia of Life

A species of Costa Rican salamander named for Sophocles’ drama Oedipus rex and Sigmund Freud’s infamous psychoanalytic theory based thereon.

2. Iago garricki

A fish named in part after the notorious villain of Shakespeare’s Othello.

3. Bagheera kiplingi

Robert L. Curry

Amazingly, this Central American jumping spider named after Bagheera—a benevolent panther which helps guide young Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book—is the first predominantly-vegetarian spider known to science. 

4. Han solo

The genus name, “Han,” was originally based on the Han nationality, China’s largest ethnic group. When the time came to assign a species name to this long-extinct trilobite, however, paleontologist Samuel Turvey claimed to have invoked George Lucas’ beloved nerf herder to win a dare put forth by his friends. College Humor lampoons the connection here.

5. Geragnostus waldorfstatleri

Han solo wasn’t the only trilobite to get a humorous name from Turvey. Feeling that the animal’s head resembled The Muppet Show’s Statler and Waldorf, Turvey officially dubbed it after the beloved hecklers.

6. Gojirasaurus quayi

Wikimedia Commons

“Gojira” is the original Japanese name for “Godzilla,” a name that’s rather appropriate for this 220-million-year-old predator which, at a length of nearly 18 feet, is the earliest-known large carnivorous dinosaur.

7. Gollum suluensis

IMPH Science

This New Zealand shark is named for Gollum of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. It is not, however, also named for George Takei’s Hikaru Sulu of the original Star Trek series, but rather a sea in the Philippines.

8. Spongiforma squarepantsii

National Geographic

You’d think that an animal named for Nickelodeon’s ever-popular Spongebob Squarepants would be an actual sponge. But Spongiforma squarepantsii is actually a type of mushroom discovered in 2010.

9. Sauroniops pachytholus

Because only the upper skull of this carnivorous dinosaur—including a single eye socket—was found, it was named after yet another Lord of the Rings villain: the fiery eye of Sauron.

10. Otocinclus batmani

The flared tail of this South American fish reminded ichthyologist Pablo Lehmann of Gotham City’s masked vigilante.

11. Tetragnatha quasimodo

A Hawaiian spider named for the title character of Victor Hugo’s classic novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1992.

HONORABLE MENTION: Strigiphilus garylarsoni

The Far Side creator Gary Larson certainly isn’t a figment of somebody’s imagination, but the parasitic louse named in his honor is worthy of a brief aside. A few years after learning of the then-new species of blood-sucking insect, Larson wrote “I considered this an extreme honor … Besides, I knew that nobody was going to write and ask to name a new species of swan after me.”

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]