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The Quick 10: 10 Intriguing Mobster Nicknames

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Scarface, The Teflon Don, Bugsy, Lucky "“ we know all of those gangsters. But there's some really obscure and intriguing nicknames lurking in the Underworld. You can guess the origin of some of them "“ Good-Looking Sal, Vinnie Gorgeous, Lefty. Some of them, like these 10, require a little more explanation.

CIRO1. Artichoke King - Ciro Terranova. Back in the early 1900s, Terranova earned this delicious moniker because he started his life of crime by buying cheap artichokes from California and threatening vegetable sellers in New York to buy them at a 30-40 percent markup. Too bad he died in 1938 "“ the Artichoke King and the Artichoke Queen (that would be Marilyn Monroe) would have been a perfect couple.

2. Louie Bagels "“ Louis Daidone. Daidone, who was once the boss of the Lucchese crime family, got his name pretty honestly "“ he previously owned a bagel shop in Queens called "Bagels by the Bay." Perhaps he should have stuck to making breakfast food "“ these days, Daidone is serving a life sentence at United States Penitentiary in Allenwood, PA.

3. Yeast Baron "“ Giuseppe Siragusa. Similarly, "Yeast Baron" Siragusa made a fortune selling yeast to illegal home-brewers during Prohibition. "Yeast Baron" doesn't seem like a very threatening nickname, though. It sounds more like a corporate cartoon mascot "“ the disowned cousin of Captain Crunch or the Quaker Oats guy. Siragusa died in 1931, so he isn't around to show me exactly how intimidating he can be. Hopefully he doesn't have family members who read mental_floss. Um. Maybe we should move on"¦

4. Greasy Thumb "“ Jake Guzik. "Greasy Thumb" Guzik was one of Capone's right-hand men after Guzik tipped him off to a murder plot. He was one of the guys responsible for paying off police and politicians, which is how he got his greasy thumbs "“ from counting out money all of the time.

CHICKENman5. Chicken Man "“ Philip Testa. Chicken Man, was, appropriately, involved in the poultry business before becoming a big-time mobster. He's famous for his gruesome death in 1981: a nail bomb planted under his front porch in Philadelphia totally obliterated him. The incident was immortalized in the Bruce Springsteen song "Atlantic City," which opens with the line, "Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night/Now they blew up his house too."

6. Big Tuna "“ Tony Accardo. If you're like me, you think of Jim from The Office when you hear "Big Tuna." But there was a Big Tuna long before John Krasinski and co. were on the air. Accardo's most famous nickname was "Joe Batters," given to him by Al Capone after Accardo whacked a couple of dudes using a Louisville Slugger. But Chicago newspapers preferred to call him Big Tuna, which came from a much more mundane hobby of Accardo's: fishing, of course.

7. Gaspipe "“ Anthony Casso. Mobster-turned informant Anthony Casso has a few tales as to the origins of his nickname. He claims it was passed down from his dad, whose weapon of choice was actually a gas pipe. Others agree, but say it was because his dad hooked up illegal gas connections. And other sources say it was Anthony himself who liked to wail on his victims with a pipe. Whatever the reason, Casso detested the nickname and allowed only a select few to call him "Gas."

8. Milwaukee Phil "“ Felix Alderisio. This wouldn't be such a remarkable nickname if it didn't belong to a guy who was neither named Phil nor was from Milwaukee. Alderisio was originally from New York, then lived in Chicago as a teenager, and finally made his way to Milwaukee, where he started boxing under the alias "Milwaukee Phil." I suppose "Phil" sounded tougher than "Felix." Alderisio ended up being a big player in Milwaukee's prostitution, gambling, narcotics and loansharking circles.

RICCA9. The Waiter "“ Paul Ricca. Paul Ricca worked under Diamond Joe Esposito during Prohibition, smuggling whiskey and moonshine to Bella Napoli, a restaurant patronized by mobsters. Diamond Joe made Ricca the maitre d' at Bella Napoli to accommodate his friends with "special requests," hence his "The Waiter" nickname. It's not technically correct, but I suppose Paul "The Maitre d'" just doesn't sound as good.

10. Tony Ducks — Anthony Corallo. Corallo, a member of the Lucchese family, didn't have a water-fowl hunting hobby, as you might suspect. He actually acquired the name because of his amazing ability to duck subpoena servers.

And here are a few intriguing names I couldn't find good explanations for:

Mad Hatter "“ Albert Anastasia (Also Lord High Executioner)
Cheesebox "“ Mickey Callahan
The Spoon "“ Frank Cuccharia. I tend to think this nickname comes from something horrible, like maybe Cuccharia was prone to gouging out the eyes of his victims with a kitchen utensil. But perhaps he just had a proclivity for soup.

Do you know the real stories behind any of those three? Did I leave out a really bizarre nickname? Tell us about it in the comments.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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