11 Pairs of Unrelated Famous People Who Share a Name

By choice or by chance, a number of actors, directors, and other celebrities share a name with another famous person. How many conversations proceed blithely along before the participants realize they’re talking about two different people with sound-alike names?

1. Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway (1555 or 1556 – 1623) was 25 or 26 and pregnant with their first child when she married 18-year-old William Shakespeare. Anne was stuck in Stratford with the kids while Will spent most of his time in London pursuing a career in the theater. In Will’s will he left his wife only his “second-best bed with the furniture.”

Anne Hathaway is also the birth name of the award-winning American actress (1982 - ) known for her performances in movies including Brokeback Mountain, The Devil Wears Prada, and Les Misérables.

2. Jane Seymour

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Jane Seymour, (1951 - ) the English actress (born Joyce Penelope Wilhelmina Frankenberg), played James Bond’s love interest in Live and Let Die (1973) and the title role in the American TV series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman  from 1993 to 1998. She took her stage name from the third wife of Henry VIII. That Jane Seymour died in 1537, two weeks after giving birth to a son, Edward, who was King of England and Ireland (under a Regency Council) from the age of nine until his death at age 15.

3. Steve McQueen

Don’t be surprised if Netflix says, “Recommendations for [your name] include The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, and The Towering Inferno … because you liked 12 Years a Slave.” Netflix works in mysterious ways, but it’s easy to figure out what’s happening here: It’s got the American actor and “King of Cool” Terence Steven “Steve” McQueen (1930 – 1980) confused with the British director, screenwriter and video artist Steven Rodney “Steve” McQueen (1969 - ).

4. Pete Sellers

Another actor-director pair with sound-alike names is Peter Sellers (1925-1980), the British comedic actor and star of the Pink Panther movies, who played multiple roles, including the title one, in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb; and the equally oddball Peter Sellars (1957 -  ), American director of theater and opera known for casting and staging Mozart’s Don Giovanni as if it were a blaxploitation film.

5. Nick Cave

Two artsy types giving a shout-out to the inventive sounds of Nick Cave may find their voices echoing in two different caverns. Australian rocker Nicholas Edward “Nick” Cave (1957 - ), best known as the front man for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, performs the Higgs Boson Blues.

Nick Cave (1959- ) is an American fabric sculptor, dancer and performance artist known for his blend of sculpture and costume called Soundsuits.

6. Graham Greene

Although they’re both listed in the Internet Movie Database, you’re not likely to confuse (Henry) Graham Greene (1904 – 1991), the British author of The Third Man, The End of the Affair, and The Quiet American with the native Canadian actor Graham Greene (1952 - ) who appeared in The Green Mile, Dances with Wolves, and Die Hard: With a Vengeance. If you’re wondering why the writer is in IMDb, it’s because 66 movies were based on his works.

7. John Ford

How about a director and a playwright? American film director John Ford (born John Martin Feeney) (1894 –1973), cast an unknown John Wayne in Stagecoach, the first of several classic Westerns the two made together. Ford went on to win a record four Academy Awards for Best Director.

John Ford is also the name of a British playwright (1586 – c. 1639) whose plays have regained popularity in the last 20 years, after centuries of obscurity. Anticipating revivals of his “two best plays,” The Broken Heart and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, in 2012, Alexis Soloski wrote in the New York Times, “John Ford never met a character he didn’t want to kill: gruesomely, ingeniously, poignantly.”

8. Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard (1943 - ) is an American playwright, actor, and director. He has also published books of short stories, essays, and memoirs. His plays have garnered many awards, including the 1979 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for Buried Child. Although he played legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff, Shepard has an aversion to flying.

Life was not so kind to Sam Sheppard (1923 – 1970), a physician from Cleveland, Ohio, who in 1954 was found guilty of murdering his pregnant wife after a sensational trial that drew nationwide media attention. The media circus attending his trial was comparable to the one surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial about 40 years later. After nearly a decade in prison he was retried and acquitted. A few years later, he made his debut as a professional wrestler known as “The Killer.”

9. Spike Jones

Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones (1911 – 1965) was an American bandleader who specialized in performing novelty arrangements of popular music, complete with bells, whistles, gunshots and zany vocals. One of his most famous spoofs was “Cocktails for Two.”

Spike Jonze (born Adam Spiegel in 1969) is an American director, producer, screenwriter and actor who directed the current film Her as well as the 1999 cult classic Being John Malkovich (which gave him a nomination for Academy Award for Best Director). He was also a co-creator of MTV's Jackass. Apparently his eccentricity began early; when he was growing up in Bethesda, Maryland, a local store owner dubbed him "Spike Jonze" after the bandleader.

10. Francis Bacon

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Sir Francis Bacon, (1561 – 1626) was an English philosopher, statesman, and scientist best known for establishing and promoting inductive methods of scientific inquiry that became known as the Baconian method, or simply the scientific method. While driving in March of 1626, he was struck with an idea for an experiment concerning the effects of freezing on the preservation of meat.  He stopped the carriage, bought a fowl and stuffed it with snow. He caught a chill and died the next month of a lung infection, but no one has put the cause of his death to fowl play.

Francis Bacon (1909 –1992) also experimented with meats—as a subject for his painting. One of the most famous works by the Irish-born British expressionist painter, "Figure with Meat," shows a ghoulish Pope Innocent X framed by two hanging sides of beef. Although some viewers find Bacon's raw, aggressive style unsettling, many critics consider him one of the major painters of the 20th century. Last November, his triptych "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" sold for  $142,405,000, the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned.

11. Erik Erickson 

Erick Erickson (1975 - ) is an ultra-conservative American TV pundit and blogger (at known for inflammatory tweets about a Supreme Court Justice, President Obama, and "feminazis."

Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994) was a German-born American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychosocial development. The product of an extramarital affair, he never knew his father. In an apparent rejection of both his natural father and the stepfather who raised him, he named himself Erik Erikson, symbolically becoming his own father. Not surprisingly, he is famous for coining the phrase "identity crisis."

Want a longer list of namesakes? Find 44,639 confusable people at the “Category: Human name disambiguation pages” in Wikipedia.  

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.