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15 Fascinating Terms from Orphan Black

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The third season of Orphan Black is coming to an end this evening, and if you haven't been watching we suggest you clone yourself and catch up double time. The hit BBC America series about clone experimentation gone awry has it all: a talented actress (Tatiana Maslany) adroitly playing multiple, multi-accented characters; backstories and references steeped in literature and myth; and, best of all, the Clone Club.

What’s the Clone Club? Check out these 15 fascinating Orphan Black terms and find out.


© Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

First things first: what the heck is an “orphan black”? Apparently it refers to a “child in the black,” or an orphan in hiding from the black market. Main clone (and the last one to know she is a clone) Sarah Manning and her (non-clone) foster brother Felix were both considered such children, so much so that their foster mother, Siobhan, had to smuggle them out of England.


Project Leda is the initiative behind the development of a line of female clones. With the exception of Rachel Duncan, who was raised by the project’s lead scientists, the Leda clones grew up unaware of their clonage.

The name Leda comes from the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, in which a king’s daughter is raped (or seduced, depending on the interpretation) by the god Zeus in the form of a swan. Later Leda, having also slept with her mortal husband the same night, gives birth to two eggs—one containing the mortal Castor and Clytemnestra, and the other, the divine Pollux and Helen.


© Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

Clone Helena is named for the immortal Helen, and herself seems immortal, or at least very difficult to kill. Also, like Helen of Troy, Helena has a twin sister, Sarah, who, as one Redditor suggests, might be named for Sarah in the Old Testament. The Old Testament Sarah was thought to be barren but eventually bore a son. The Leda clones were developed to be infertile, but the twins aren't: Sarah has a daughter, Kira, and Helena is shown to have viable eggs.


© Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

In addition to being a clone with enviable dreadlocks, fan favorite Cosima is a Ph.D. candidate in Experimental Evolutionary Development Biology. She’s also based on real-life Ph.D. candidate and science writer, Cosima Herter.

The real Cosima is the science consultant for the show, and in addition to checking the scripts for accuracy, she seeks the sources of inspiration for the episode titles. For season one, it was Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species; for season two it was Francis Bacon's Plan of the Work; and this season, it's Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address.



Where there are female clones, there are male ones. While Project Leda was overseen by the scientific Dyad Institute, Project Castor is the doing of the “military faction” with the idea of creating an army of super-soldiers. The problem is, like mortal Castor, the Castor Boys are prone to death—dropping like mayflies, as Siobhan says—although it’s not (yet) clear why.

In a recent episode, the “original Castor” was found. But this original Castor turned out to be a woman with two cell lines, one male and one female, making her the original Leda as well as the original Castor and reminiscent of the original original Leda in Greek myth.


© Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

The Dyad Institute is a biotechnology company owned by the mysterious (and probably evil) Topside corporation. The word dyad refers to duplicated chromosomes produced during mitosis, an early stage of fetal development, as well as any two individuals that are regarded as a pair. Dyad comes from a Greek word meaning “two.”


© Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

Dyad is headed by scientist Dr. Aldous Leekie, a famed “neolutionist,” or neo-evolutionist. Neolutionists believe that humans shouldn’t have to wait for nature to take its course in terms of evolution but should utilize technology to direct evolution themselves.


Fans and followers of Dr. Leekie are known as Freaky Leekies, partly because they’re freaks for the scientist but also because they dress and physically alter themselves in a way that they would consider “neolutionary” but others might deem freakish.

Aldous Leekie is most likely named for both Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World—a dystopian novel in which “natural” reproduction has been abolished and human embryos are raised in hatcheries—and Louis Leakey, a pioneer in the study of human evolutionary development in Africa.


© Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

Monitors are like Buffy the Vampire Slayer Watchers, only clueless. Dyad assigns each Leda clone a "monitor," usually under the guise of a significant other, who reports back to the institute on the clone's health, sleeping patterns, etc. However, the monitors don't know what their employers are up to nor do they know that their charges are clones.


© Steve Wilkie for BBC AMERICA

The Proletheans are religious extremists divided on their views on clones. Traditional Proletheans—like those who raised Helena to be a clone-killing machine—believe clones are an abomination. A sect headed by the super-creepy Henrik Johanssen believes in the intersection of science and religion to the point of forcing women, including his own daughter, to become surrogates for “miracle” babies made with his sperm and Helena’s eggs.

The name Prolethean may have come from Lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Greek mythology. In one depiction of Leda and the Swan, Hypnos, the god of sleep, is shown drugging Leda with water from the River Lethe, the way Henrik drugged Helena before artificially impregnating her.


A copy of this novel by H.G. Wells contains all the clone secrets as written in code by Project Leda scientist—and Rachel’s adoptive dad—Ethan Duncan. In the novel, Dr. Moreau performs vivisection, or surgical experimentation, on live animals to create animal-human hybrids called “Beast Folk," only to be killed by one of his own creations in the end.


Sestra, or “sister” in various Slavic languages, is what Ukraine-bred Helena calls her fellow clones—after she decides to stop killing them, that is. “Brother-sestra” is what she calls Felix.



“You just broke the first rule of Clone Club!” says Cosima.

“What?” Sarah asks. “Never tell anyone about Clone Club?”

Those in Clone Club, both clone and non-clone, are aware of Project Leda and are against further human experimentation (unlike "proclones" like Rachel). To keep in touch, Clone Club members use burner phones they’ve dubbed "clone phones."

Clone Club—or Clone Clubbers—are also other terms for Orphan Black fans.


Another good thing about Clone Club (besides being able to share clothes and DNA) is the clone dance party, which is what fans dubbed the sestras' spontaneous celebration on what they thought might be Cosima’s final night as she battled a mysterious illness.

The clone dance party itself had clones, including an extended behind-the-scenes cut and a mini-clone version created by the actress who played a younger Leda clone.

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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]