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20th Century Fox

12 X-Files Terms and the Truth Behind Them

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20th Century Fox

Good news, X-philes! Your favorite conspiracy show is returning to television for a six-episode “event series.” It’s been a while since The X-Files ended, so here’s a refresher on 12 terms from and about the show.


The mysterious and menacing Cigarette Smoking Man, or CSM, is Mulder's nemesis and a member of the Syndicate, the secret organization behind the alien conspiracy.

The CSM has had some name changes over the series. At first he's referred to as Cancer Man, but in season three, Mulder calls him Skinner’s “cigarette-smoking friend." Season four aired an episode called “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” and later that same season, Mulder calls him “cigarette man.” In season six, he's finally called “cigarette smoking man.”

Why Cancer Man became Cigarette Smoking Man is unclear, although there’s speculation that show creator Chris Carter did so to avoid offending the tobacco industry.


Deep Throat is the alias of a Syndicate member who is also an informant to Mulder. His pseudonym comes from the real-life Deep Throat, a Watergate informant who in 2005 was revealed to be FBI associate director Mark Felt. Felt took his nom de guerre from the 1972 porn film of the same name. After The X-Files’ Deep Throat is killed, an informant named X replaces him. This could be an homage to the informant Mr. X in Oliver Stone’s JFK, which, Carter has said, inspired the Deep Throat character.


Greys is common vernacular for a kind of alien also known as Grey aliens and Roswell Greys. The term seems to have originated in the 1980s. In the X-Files universe, Greys are also known as Colonists, extra-terrestrials who want to colonize the Earth. Faceless aliens are shapeshifting renegades opposed to the Colonists (although why is not clear) while super-soldiers are aliens that have taken over human bodies, have tremendous strength, and will stop at nothing to ensure no human survives alien colonization.


The Lone Gunmen are a trio of conspiracy theorists who publish a magazine called The Lone Gunman. They take their name from the lone gunman theory, which says Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating John F. Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists believe otherwise.


The idea of ebony-clad men appearing after UFO sightings originated in the 1950s, according to Live Science. Albert Bender, a UFO enthusiast and magazine publisher, claimed that “he had been visited by ‘three men wearing dark suits’ who ordered him not to continue publishing information about flying saucers.”

Folklorist Gray Barker wrote about Bender’s story in the 1956 book, They Knew Too Much about Flying Saucers, which describes “three men in black suits with threatening expressions on their faces.”

The X-Files’ Men in Black were played by professional wrestler-cum-governor Jesse Ventura and game show host Alex Trebek.


Monster of the Week, or MOTW, refers to one-off episodes that weren't part of the larger UFO storyline, and include "The Jersey Devil"; "War of the Coprophagous" (a coprophage is a dung-eater, in this case, a cockroach); and "Home," a highly disturbing account of the, shall we say, close-knit Peacock family.

The term monster of the week may have originated in the early 1970s. This 1976 magazine mentions the phrase as does this book from 1985, which connects it to the 1960s Japanese TV show, Ultraman, which featured a different monster nearly every episode.


A phrase that should definitely be used more often, to Mulder something out means to figure out a secret, a cover-up, or a conspiracy. Science fiction and fantasy author Jim Butcher uses the phrase in his 2003 novel, Death Masks: “You guys stay here and Mulder it out.”


A viscous alien virus also known as black oil and black cancer, Purity “thrived in petroleum deposits” on Earth and “was capable of entering humanoids” and controlling their bodies. Fans dubbed the oily alien Oilien.


To Scully means to behave like the skeptical half of the X-Files duo, namely by explaining away potentially paranormal phenomena with science and logic. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first to use Scully in this way. “I cannot believe that you of all people are trying to Scully me,” Buffy tells Giles in the 1997 episode, “The Pack.”


A term that comes out of X-Files fan fiction, a shipper is someone who wants platonic fictional characters to have a romantic relationship. Those against Mulder and Scully being more than FBI friends were known as noromos, short for “no romance.” Shipping now refers to wanting any two people to get together, for example: “How much did we all start shipping Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emma Watson when they walked out onstage together?”


In case you’re wondering, the FBI doesn’t really have an X-files, but the Washington State Legislature does. Although probably named for the show, Washington state's X-files isn’t about UFOs or other unexplained phenomena but “bills that will go no further in the process.” X-files is also slang for a type of ecstasy as well as haemorrhoids. Apparently, X-files is Cockney rhyming slang for piles, which are, you guessed it, haemorrhoids.


An X-phile is an X-Files fan, where the suffix -phile means “one that loves” and is a pun on file. The term seems to have originated in the mid-1990s.

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