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30 Discoveries About Family History in Spanish Surnames

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If your family name represents an occupation, you know something about how one—or likely more—of your ancestors made a living. In English, occupational names, like Smith and Miller, are among the most common. In Spanish, though, patronymics (names derived from a father’s name) like Rodríguez (son of Rodrigo) and Martínez (son of Martín) are far more common. In a Spanish government ranking of surname frequency, you have to scan down to #30 (Molina) before you find a name definitely related to a trade. There are plenty of occupational surnames in Spanish, though. Some, like Barbero and Carpintero, are transparent. Here are a few that are a bit less obvious.

1. ABAD, ABATO, ABADE, ADAT, BADAL, BADIOLA, BADÍAS

These surnames all derive from Latin abbas, which in turn comes from Aramaic abba, “father”; all refer to an abbot.

2. BALLESTA, BALLESTER, BALLESTERO, BALLESTEROS

These names referred to someone who used a crossbow (ballesta), a bowman. A ballestero came to mean a royal armorer and later someone who assisted with shotguns on royal hunts.

3. BATANERO

Batanero, like the English word fuller, referred to someone who beat or agitated cloth (especially wool) in water to remove oil and dirt, making it thicker.

4. BERMEJO

Bermejo (vermilion) comes from Latin vermiculus, diminutive of vermis, “worm” and referred to those who made a red dye from an insect Kermes vermilio.

5. BOTERO

The Colombian artist Fernando Botero is known for painting and sculpting rotund figures who look as if they might enjoy guzzling wine from a bulging bota. A botero is a maker of wineskins or bottles. Botero can also relate to bote or “rowboat,” however, and some people with this name may have had ancestors who were ferrymen rather than bottle makers.

6. BOYERO

A boyero is an ox driver.

7. CABALLERO

Although caballero now means “gentleman,” it comes from late Latin caballarius, from Latin caballus, “horse,” and originally meant “knight.”

8. CABRERA, CABRERO, CABRA, CABRAL

These names derive from Latin caprarius and mean goatherd. A variant, Cabrisas, is an archaic term for goat pen.

9. CALDERÓN

This surname, which is shared by a recent president of Mexico and a poet and playwright of the Golden Age of Spanish literature, means caldron and was given to a maker of cooking pots.

10. CANTERO

A cantero is a stonemason.

11. CARRILLO, CARRO, CARRERA, CARRERO, CARRETA, CARRIL

These surnames come from Spanish carro, from Latin carrus, “cart,” and refer to cart or wagon makers. Carrillo also means “cheek” and one source says the name was given to those with unusual cheeks.

12. CUBERO

Cuba means “cask”; a cubero is a cooper, or barrel maker.

13. ESCRIBANO

An escribano was a scrivener—a clerk, scribe or notary who certified documents.

14. ESCUDERO(S), ESCUDILLO

From Latin scutarius, escudero means “shield bearer or squire.”

15. FUSTER, FUSTÉ

These names relate to fustero, meaning “carpenter,” or more specifically, “turner, lathe operator.”

16. FERRER, FERRERO, FERREIRO, FERREIRA, FERRUFINO, FERRÓN, HERRERA, DE HERRERA, HERRERO, HIERRO, HERRADA

These are all historical and regional variants of a word meaning “iron.” The name was applied to blacksmiths, but in some cases may have arisen from a place name.

17. GUERRA , GUERRERO

The Spanish word guerra, “war,” comes from Germanic werra. Guerrero means warrior.

18. HIDALGO, FIDALGO

From Latin filius aliquid, “son of something [i.e. wealth],” the name was applied to noblemen.

19. JURADO

Jurado means “sworn.” The present meaning is “juror,” but earlier on it referred to sworn officials with a variety of duties.

20. LABRADOR

From Latin laborātor, “laborer,” labrador refers to someone who works the earth, a plowman or farmer.

21. MARÍN, MARINO, MARINA, MARES, DELMAR

From the Latin word marinus, meaning “man of the sea,” these are variants of the word for sailor.

22. MERINO, MERÍN, MERINA, MERINERO

From (you guessed it) Latin maiorinus, “something greater,” a merino was a judge appointed by the king to preside over a broad jurisdiction.

23. MELERO

From Latin (yet again) mellarĭus, “honey collector, beekeeper,” melero means a seller of honey.

24. MOLINA, MOLINO, MOLINERO, MOLINER, MOLNER, MUELAS, MOLA, MOLERO

These variants of terms for “mill” or “miller” come from Latin molinum, which is derived from molere, “to grind” (as your molars do).

25. OBREGÓN, OBRERO, OBRADOR

Although these names ultimately derive from Latin opus, “work,” and the current meaning of both obrador and obrero is “worker,” the surname Obregón came from the Asturian dialect of Spanish where it had developed a more specific meaning: butcher.

26. ROMERO, ROMER, ROMEO, BORROMEO, ROMÁN, ROMANO

This surname and its variants have two sources: Latin romanus, “inhabitant or native of Rome,” and late Latin romaeus, “pilgrim.”

27. TEJERO, TEIJEIRO, TEJERINA, TEXEIRA, TEJADA

These are some of the variants of tejero, a maker of roofing tiles or bricks.

28. VAQUERO

From vaca, “cow” + - ero (agentive suffix), vaquero, as many Western fans know, is a cowboy.

29. VERDUGO

If this is your surname, you may be glad you’re not in the family business. A verdugo was an executioner.

30. ZAPATERO, SABATER

Spanish speakers know that the name Zapatero means shoemaker, but they may not recognize that Sabater is the Catalán equivalent.

Sources: Elián, Gran libro de los apellidos y la heráldica; Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua española; Robb, Encyclopedia of American Family Names; Wikipedia: la encyclopedia libre, Apellido; Williams, Diccionario ingles y español

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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