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Arts Strew

11 Movie Characters Without Names

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Arts Strew

Namedropping is a popular pastime in Hollywood’s most important circles. Which makes the fact that some of the movie industry’s most bankable A-list stars have agreed to starring roles in films in which they have no name at all rather surprising. Here are 11 of them (technically more when we count the couples and all those 12 Angry Men).


It’s the film that made Marilyn Monroe an international sex symbol. The one in which the skirt of her iconic halter dress is blown upward by the air from a subway grate. The same dress that sold for $4.6 million at a 2011 auction of memorabilia belonging to fellow actress Debbie Reynolds. Yet for all its lasting legacy, her character is known only as “The Girl.”


As immensely watchable as Nicolas Winding Refn’s uber-violent Drive is, at the end of its 100-minute running time, audiences are no closer to understanding who Ryan Gosling’s character is than they were during the neon-colored, 1980s-inspired opening credits. They know he works as a mechanic, stuntman, and getaway driver; that he can make a scorpion-embossed satin jacket look cool; and that he can woo Carey Mulligan and her kid even while remaining relatively mute. But they don’t know what to call him, other than “Driver.” 


Considering that this trio of spaghetti westerns from Sergio Leone is often referred to as “The Man With No Name Trilogy,” this one’s sort of a gimme. However, it was distributor United Artists—not the director—who came up with the “No Name” concept in order to package the films as a trilogy. Leone clearly got on board with the idea; in 1973 he co-wrote and helped to direct My Name is Nobody, in which the protagonist is referred to as exactly that: Nobody! 


In John Carney’s Oscar-winning indie, it’s the soundtrack that tells the short-lived love story of an Irish busker (“The Guy”) and a Czech immigrant (“The Girl”) who spend a week making sweet music together. 


You know Ralphie, Randy, Flick, Schwartz, Scut Farkus, Grover Dill, and even the Bumpus’ dogs. But we triple dog dare you to come up with a name for Ralphie and Randy’s dad other than “The Old Man.”


The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club with Edward Norton, if only for lack of a proper name with which to address him. Though credited as Narrator, his voiceover recitations of a series of Reader’s Digest articles in which various human organs are written about in first-person narratives have led some viewers to label him as “Jack” (“I am Jack’s raging bile duct”). In a pinch, Tyler Durden will do.


It’s not until the very end of Sidney Lumet’s Oscar-nominated courtroom drama that audiences come to know any of the dozen main characters by anything other than their juror numbers. And even then it's only two of the characters whose names are revealed—and only their last names. Which leaves us with 10 Angry Unnamed Men. (In the play on which the film is based, no names are ever mentioned.) 


Taking into account the number of times he has had to utter “Bond, James Bond” over the past seven years, playing a coke dealer with no name—and listed as “XXXX” in the credits—must have been a relief for Daniel Craig. At the end of the film he breaks the fourth wall to state: “My name? If you knew that, you’d be as clever as me.”


Despite turning back into a handsome prince in the end, Belle’s one true love in this classic Disney fairytale is still only ever referred to as The Beast. Which in a way defeats the film’s whole message. Though fans assert that The Beast’s name has been confirmed as “Adam,” super-fan Keith Lapinig did a thorough job of debunking this theory on his YouTube page.


It’s not just Viggo Mortensen—credited as “Man”—who does not bear a forename in John Hillcoat’s post-apocalyptic drama; there’s also Kodi Smit-McPhee (Boy), Robert Duvall (Old Man), Charlize Theron (Woman), Guy Pearce (Veteran) and at least 20 others. Hillcoat told Moviefone that a lack of name is one of the elements that allowed the story to feel “really familiar and yet it was unspecific,” a tactic that he adapted from the source material: Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. 


In Lars von Trier’s provocative Antichrist, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play “He” and “She,” a husband and wife who retreat to their remote cabin in the woods following the tragic death of their young son. That their cabin is referred to as “Eden” only strengthens the argument made by some critics, including Roger Ebert, that the film is an allegory for Adam and Eve, and that part of von Trier’s intention was to make it a universal story of men, women, and their falls from grace. Biblical as its origins might be, this movie is not for those who are easily made queasy.

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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.