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14 Mind-Twisting Terms from The Matrix

Matrix Reloaded, the second film in The Matrix trilogy, kung-fu’d its way into theaters 13 years ago this month. The conclusion, The Matrix Revolutions, followed in November of the same year. But our favorite is still the original, when we’re first introduced to Neo, Morpheus, and the truth about spoons. Here we go down the rabbit hole to the stories behind 14 mind-twisting terms from The Matrix.

1. THE MATRIX

“The Matrix has you,” Neo’s computer tells him. What is the Matrix exactly? In the movie, it’s a virtual reality (VR) world into which people are plugged while their bodies are used for energy by a race of artificially intelligent beings.

The word matrix originated in the 15th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and referred to the womb (echoing the womb-like pods Neo and the others are kept in). The science fiction meaning, basically the equivalent of cyberspace, might have been coined in a 1976 episode of Doctor Who, “Deadly Assassin”: “How can you intercept thought patterns within the matrix itself?”

The matrix as a VR-world might have first appeared in the 1984 novel by William Gibson, The Neuromancer: "He'd operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high ... jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix."

2. NEO / THOMAS ANDERSON

Neo has a couple of meanings. It's an anagram for "one," as in the One who will save humanity, and also means “new” as in the new, freshly-born person now aware of the Matrix.

The name Thomas Anderson also has significance. Thomas comes from an Aramaic word that means “twin.” Agent Smith tells Neo, “It seems that you have been living two lives,” one as program writer Thomas Anderson and the other as hacker Neo. Thomas might also refer to doubting Thomas, the apostle who refused to believe in Jesus’s resurrection until he fingered the wounds himself. As for Anderson, it means “son of man,” perhaps to emphasize Neo's humanity.

3. METACORTEX

Metacortex is the software company that Neo works for. Meta- is a combining element that means “changed” or “higher, beyond.” Cortex refers to the outer layer of an organ, in this case the brain. Metacortex could imply the idea of a higher intelligence, like that of robots and computer programs, or a higher consciousness, like that which Neo achieves in order to realize the true nature of the Matrix.

4. TRINITY

The word trinity is commonly thought of in the Christian theological sense of the existence of God in three persons. Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity might be considered embodiments of those three persons, with Morpheus as the Father (“Morpheus, you were more than a leader,” Tank says, “you were a father”), Neo as the Son or Christ-like figure (“You are my Savior, man!” Choi tells him, “my own personal Jesus Christ!”), and Trinity as the Holy Spirit who helps Neo come back from the dead.

5. THE WHITE RABBIT

Neo’s computer advises him to “follow the white rabbit,” a reference to the tardy rabbit which leads Lewis Carroll’s Alice down the rabbit hole and to her adventures in Wonderland. In the film, the white rabbit appears in the form of a tattoo on the shoulder of a woman, who Neo follows to a club where he meets Trinity.

While the OED’s “official” definition of white rabbit is a person or thing that hurries from place to place, it might also refer to something that leads one on (mis)adventures. In the 1930s, rabbit hole gained the figurative sense of a passage leading to a surreal or nonsensical place.

6. MORPHEUS

In ancient Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Morpheus is the god of dreams while his name translates from Greek as “maker of shapes." In the film, Morpheus is a legendary hacker who expertly manipulates the Matrix and helps Neo realize the Matrix is basically a dream.

7. THE BLUE PILL AND THE RED PILL

"Take the blue pill and the story ends,” Morpheus tells Neo. “Take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

An influence on the blue and red pills of The Matrix might have been Douglas R. Hofstadter’s 1979 book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, in which a tortoise and the philosopher Aristotle drink phials of blue and red liquid to “pop” in and out of M.C. Escher’s labyrinthic drawings. The drinking of the phials—like the taking of the pills in The Matrix—is reminiscent of Alice’s drinking a bottle labeled "DRINK ME" and eating a cake tagged "EAT ME," which cause her to shrink and grow, respectively.

In Matrix parlance, redpills are those who are aware of the Matrix construct while bluepills are not.

8. NEBUCHADNEZZAR

Morpheus’s ship, Nebuchadnezzar or "Neb" for short, is named for Nebuchadnezzar II, the ancient Babylonian king who was said to have troubling dreams he couldn't remember. In Matrix Reloaded, Morpheus quotes the Bible as the Neb is destroyed: “I have dreamed a dream; but now that dream is gone from me."

9. ZION

Zion is the last human city, says Tank, hidden “deep underground ... near the earth’s core.” Like the Matrix, the idea of Zion might have been plucked from The Neuromancers, in which Zion is a space settlement built by Rastafarians. The original Zion was an ancient Hebraic city often used as a synonym for Jerusalem.

10. THE ORACLE

The Oracle is a sentient program, but unlike the Agents, is on the side of the humans. She’s believed to be precognitive, but it’s unclear if she’s simply telling people what they want to hear. The name Oracle could be a play on the Oracle computer company.

11. CYPHER

Cypher is a Neb crew member furtively in cahoots with the Agents. The word cypher, or cipher, has multiple meanings. Its oldest definition is the numeral zero, and perhaps by extension, a person of little worth. Cipher eventually came to mean any number, and then a disguised way of writing, perhaps because early codes often replaced letters with numbers. In the movie, Cypher is an expert at reading Matrix code and is himself coded or disguised.

12. MATRIX DIGITAL RAIN

Matrix digital rain is the code for the Matrix that rains down on various computer screens. The characters are a combination of Latin letters, numbers, and Japanese katakana characters. The Hungarian film Meteo is said to be an influence, as well as the opening credits for Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese anime film based on the manga of the same name and an influence on the film in general.

13. BULLET TIME

While this special effect didn’t originate with The Matrix, the term bullet time might have. A March 1999 Variety article about the movie mentions “bullet-time photography,” in which “ultra-fast lensing” is used in combination with “computer enhancement” to alter “the speed and trajectories of people and objects.” The first instance of bullet time (not-so-)special effects might be in the 1962 movie Zotz!, in a which a nutty professor uses an ancient amulet to stop a bullet.

14. WIRE FU

In wire fu, a blend of "wire" and "kung fu," wires are used in fight scenes to give the illusion of flight. While the term first appeared in the mainstream in 1997, says Word Spy, Hong Kong action star Jet Li is credited with pioneering the technique in films such as Once Upon a Time in China.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
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by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
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Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

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