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9 Tasty Foods Named After People

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Ever wonder what it takes to get your name permanently affixed to a dish? It doesn't hurt to invent a new delicacy that people just can't stop eating, but for some people it's just been a matter of being in the right place at the right time—and complimenting the chef on a job well done. Here are nine foods named after people, including Margherita pizza, Graham crackers, and nachos (yes, nachos).

1. Chicken a la King

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While some stories trace the savior of leftover chicken's roots back to London's Claridge Hotel or the famed restaurant Delmonico's, one particular tale is widely accepted. As the story goes, a chef named George Greenwald ran the restaurant at the ritzy Brighton Beach Hotel in Brooklyn around the turn of the 20th century. Greenwald liked to experiment in the kitchen, and one night he turned out a special chicken dish for the owners of the hotel. The proprietor and his wife adored the dish and encouraged Greenwald to add it to his menu. Greenwald was so delighted that his boss liked his new creation that he named it after the hotelier: E. Clark King.

2. Graham crackers

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Sylvester Graham would not have gotten along very well with James Salisbury. Graham, a 19th-century diet proponent, felt that people should ingest mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while avoiding meats and any sort of spice. The upside of all of this bland food sounds a bit curious to the modern reader: Graham thought his diet would keep his patients from having impure thoughts. Cleaner thoughts would lead to less masturbation, which would in turn help stave off blindness, pulmonary problems, and a whole host of other potential pitfalls that stemmed from moral corruption. Graham invented the cracker that bears his name as one of the staples of this anti-self-abuse diet.

3. Salisbury Steak

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James Salisbury was a 19th-century American doctor with a rather kooky set of beliefs. According to Salisbury, fruits, vegetables, and starches were the absolute worst thing a person could eat, as they would produce toxins as our bodies digested them. The solution? A diet heavy on lean meats. To help his diet cause, Salisbury invented the Salisbury steak, which he recommended patients eat three times a day and wash down with a glass of hot water to aid digestion. Apparently the only people paying attention to the doctor's orders were elementary school lunch ladies.

4. Cobb salad

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Here's a debate so fiery that even Curb Your Enthusiasm has tackled it. Although there are numerous origin stories for this main-course salad, it seems that most people generally agree the concoction bears the name of Robert Cobb, the former proprietor of Hollywood's Brown Derby restaurant.

There are a number of stories about how Cobb actually invented the salad, though. The one most frequently repeated is that in 1937, a hungry Cobb went to his restaurant's kitchen for a midnight snack and ended up improvising a delicious salad with what he found in the fridge. His buddy Sid Grauman, the owner of the landmark Grauman's Chinese Theater, was with Cobb on the night he got the munchies, and started ordering "Cobb's salads" when he came in to eat at the Brown Derby.

5. Beef Stroganoff

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The creamy beef dish supposedly takes its name from Count Pavel Stroganov, a 19th-century Russian statesman and military leader who commanded a division in the Napoleonic Wars. Stroganov's family was one of Russia's most wealthy and influential, so he certainly had the clout to get a namesake dish. It's not totally clear, though, at what point the dish sprang into existence. Some sources credit an 1890 culinary competition—which seems unlikely because Count Pavel was long dead at that point—but the beef dish is mentioned in written records at least as far back as the 1860s.

6. Nachos

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Yep, there really was a guy named Nacho. In 1943 Ignacio Anaya—better known by his nickname "Nacho"—was working at the Victory Club in Piedras Negras, Mexico, just over the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. As the story goes, there were a lot of American servicemen stationed at Fort Duncan near Eagle Pass, and one evening a large group of soldiers' wives came into Nacho's restaurant as he was closing down.

Nacho didn't want to turn the women away with empty stomachs, but he was too low on provisions to make a full dinner. So he improvised. Nacho Anaya supposedly cut up a bunch of tortillas, sprinkled them with cheddar and jalapenos and popped them in the oven. The women were so delighted with the nachos especiales that the snack quickly spread throughout Texas.

7. Fettucine Alfredo

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The Italian favorite has been around for centuries, but it supposedly took on its current form around 1914 when Alfredo di Lelio upped the amount of butter in the recipe in an attempt to find something his pregnant wife would enjoy eating. Di Lelio realized that his buttery cheese sauce was extraordinarily tasty, so he started serving it to tourists at his Rome restaurant and named the dish after himself.

8. Margherita pizza

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This deliciously simple pizza is named after Margherita of Savoy, who was Queen consort of Italy from 1878 until 1900 during the reign of her husband, King Umberto I. In 1889, Umberto and Margherita took a vacation to Naples and visited renowned pizza chef Raffaele Esposito, who cooked the royal couple three special pizzas. Margherita particularly enjoyed one that had used mozzarella, tomato, and basil to mimic the colors the Italian flag, so Esposito named the dish in her honor.

9. Bananas Foster

Jenene Chesbrough, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 1951, Richard Foster had a tough job. He was the chairman of a New Orleans crime commission that was trying to clean up the French Quarter, and he also ran his own business, the Foster Awning Company. When Foster was hungry, he would often head in to his friend Owen Brennan's restaurant, Brennan's, and happily wolf down whatever chef Paul Blange was making. When Chef Blange invented a new dessert of flaming bananas, he named it after his owner's buddy and frequent customer.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
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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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