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7 Barons Behind Famous Beers

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Dinero Club

A number of the American brewing industry's pioneers led fairly colorful lives before and after getting their surnames emblazoned on cans and tap handles. Here's the scoop on a few of the wisest men to ever ferment a little barley. Remember: when in doubt, always marry your former boss' widow.

1. Eberhard Anheuser

Anheuser wasn't actually a brewer. Instead, he was a successful soap factory owner in St. Louis just before the Civil War. Anheuser provided a good deal of cash to the owners of the struggling Bavarian Brewery, which opened in 1852, and he eventually ended up acquiring the brewery in 1860 as repayment for these debts. The soap baron promptly renamed his new beer concern E Anheuser & Co.

2. Adolphus Busch

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The other name in the Anheuser-Busch empire didn't set out with huge dreams of being a brewer, either. Busch arrived in St. Louis in 1857 as an industrious 18-year-old German immigrant who was the second youngest of 22 siblings. Busch found work as a commission salesman, and within two years, he and a partner moved on to a more lucrative field when they opened their own brewing supply wholesaler. Busch was able to brush up on brewing practices through his new business, and he also became quite partial to Lily Anheuser, the aforementioned Eberhard's daughter. When Busch married Lily in 1861, he became a part of the brewer's family, and in 1879 the company's name officially became Anheuser-Busch.

Busch wasn't just a guy who married well, though. He was the first American brewer to pasteurize his brews in the 1870s, and his ingenious development of a network of icehouses next to railroad tracks enabled Busch to ship his beer nationally while keeping it cold and fresh.

3. Adolph Coors

Beer History

In 1868, Coors came to America as an industrious young brewer's apprentice. By 1873, his search for suitable water for brewing had led Coors to Golden, Colorado, where he opened the Golden Brewery in a partnership with Jacob Schueler. Schueler put up most of the cash; he invested $18,000 to just $2,000 from Coors. Why aren't we all going out for an extra case of Schueler's, then? Because the partnership didn't last too long. Coors bought out Schueler in 1880. Coors wasn't just a brewer, though.

When Prohibition came to Colorado in 1916, three years before the rest of the country went dry, he kept the business afloat by making malted milk and focusing on the family's ceramics business, which is now known as CoorsTek, one of the world's largest industrial ceramics companies.

4. Frederick Pabst

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The man behind PBR was also a German immigrant who came to the United States as a young boy. The Pabst family lived in Chicago, where Frederick worked as a waiter, cabin boy, and eventually a captain on steamships that cruised through Lake Michigan. Unfortunately for Pabst, he didn't win any blue ribbons as a sailor; an 1863 storm caused him to rack up $20,000 worth of damage when he beached his ship. Pabst was so frustrated and scared by the wreck that he gave up sailing altogether.

Luckily, though, Pabst's father-in-law was a Milwaukee brewer who helped the former sailor find a new calling. Although Pabst didn't know anything about brewing, he took at job at the family's Best Brewery, and within a few years had bought out his father-in-law with some help from his brother-in-law.

Once they took over, the two started expanding the brand nationally with a little help from some clever marketing. Armed with the prestige of awards that his beer won at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876 and the 1878 Paris World's Fair, Pabst started putting little blue ribbons around the neck of each bottle. When the brew grabbed another award at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, the name changed for good, and Pabst Blue Ribbon was born.

5. Joseph Schlitz

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Schlitz knew how to make a quick rise through a company. In 1856, he was the manager and bookkeeper of August Krug's brewery in Milwaukee. When Krug died, Schlitz married his former boss' widow and renamed the brewery the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company.

When the Great Chicago Fire ravaged the city in 1871, Schlitz made a unique donation to the recovery effort: hundreds of barrels of beer for thirsty Chicagoans.

This move helped spike the brand's popularity in one of the country's major markets and made Schlitz even wealthier. Sadly, he met a tragic end while traveling to a sharpshooting contest in his native Germany; Schlitz was aboard the steamship Schiller when it sank off the coast of England.

6. Valentin Blatz

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Schlitz wasn't the only brewer who learned the value of marrying a widow. The brewery modern drinkers know as Blatz was originally called the City Brewery and was owned by a brewer named John Braun. Braun's fledgling business took a bit of a dip in 1851 when a former employee named Valentin Blatz opened up a brewery of his own—right next door. Braun died within a year, and Blatz soon married the widow and united the two breweries, which quickly grew from a pair of tiny concerns into a single brewing giant.

7. Frederick Miller

Beer History

Unlike some of his beer-slinging counterparts, Miller didn't have to come to the States to get his start as a brewer. Miller was already pretty successful as a brewer back home in Germany when he came to Milwaukee in 1854. A year later, he leased the Plank Road Brewery in Milwaukee and started brewing with yeast he'd brought with him all the way from Germany. By 1883, Miller was doing his own bottling, too, and the man whose company brought you Miller Lite and taught you how to live the High Life was established as a brewing titan on this side of the pond, too. 

This post originally appeared in 2009.

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technology
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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iStock
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Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

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