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How 14 Car Companies Got Their Names

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Most of us probably don't put too much thought into our cars' names. Sure, we'll take the wheel of a Toyota or a Chevrolet, but how did those cars pick up their monikers? Let's take a look at a few that aren't quite as obvious as the Ford name.

1. Nissan

The company we now know as Nissan got its start in 1914 as DAT Motorcar. The "DAT" name came from the first initial of the three founders' family names. In 1931, DAT introduced a new small car they called the Datson, which later morphed into "Datsun."


Meanwhile, businessman Yoshisuke Aikawa founded an industrial holding company in 1928 and named his new venture Nippon Sangyo. (The name loosely translates into "Japan Industries.") Aikawa's company bought out DAT in 1931, and eventually the Nippon Sangyo name became abbreviated as Nissan.


Some drivers may remember cruising around in Datsuns before they ever got behind the wheel of a Nissan. What prompted the name change? Until the early 1980s, the Datsun badge appeared on the cars Nissan exported out of Japan. In 1981, though, Nissan execs announced that they were changing this practice in order to strengthen global awareness of the Nissan brand. Thus, you can't buy a Datsun Z anymore, but you can get the keys to a Nissan one.

2. Toyota

Toyota didn't start out as a car company. It wasn't called Toyota, either. In 1926, Sakichi Toyoda founded the Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, a company that made looms, not cars. In 1933, Toyoda's son Kiichiro started a separate motors division, and the company's cars quickly took off.


How did the name get from "Toyoda" to "Toyota," though? In 1936, the company held a competition to design a new logo, and the winner consisted of the three Japanese characters that made up the Toyoda name. However, after giving it some thought, the Toyoda family decided that the slightly tweaked "Toyota" was stronger. Writing out "Toyoda" required nine brush strokes, whereas "Toyota" only required eight, a lucky number in Japan. Plus, the name just sounded better, so Toyoda became Toyota.

3. Chrysler

Walter Chrysler probably wasn't on anyone's short list of potential moguls when he was a young man. He spent much of his youth kicking around Texas as a railroad mechanic, and although the work wasn't glamorous, he developed quite a skill set as a machinist. In 1911, the gifted 36-year-old machinist became production chief for Buick, and by 1919 he was making millions of dollars a year as head of the company.

Chrysler eventually left Buick, and after a failed attempt to take over the Willys-Overland Motor Company, he uses some of his accumulated wealth to buy a controlling interest in the floundering Maxwell Motor Company. Chrysler's new company introduced a popular car called the Chrysler in 1924, and by the next year the Maxwell name had disappeared in favor of Chrysler.

4. Honda


Honda bears the name of its founder, Soichiro Honda. Honda was a precocious mechanic who started the Honda Motor Co. Ltd. in 1946 to build small motorcycles. Although the motorcycle business got off to a slow start, by the 1960s the business had become one of the world's largest manufacturers of bikes. In 1963, Honda introduced its first production automobile, the Honda T360 pickup truck.

5. Buick

Scottish immigrant David Dunbar Buick was an inventive fellow; before he ever got into the motors game, he created a more efficient way of manufacturing enameled cast-iron bathtubs. Buick began toying with engines during the 1890s, and after starting one failed engine company, he tried again with the Buick Manufacturing Company in 1902. Buick's cars were terrific -- his pioneering use of overhead valve technology made them tough to beat -- but he had trouble actually producing and delivering them on time. As a result he always needed to find new investors to advance him cash, and eventually his company was sold out from under him to General Motors founder William C. Durant.

In 1908, Durant gave Buick the heave-ho and a $100,000 severance check. Buick tried to parlay this money into a great fortune by investing in oil fields, but he didn't have any luck. When his attempts to get back into the car business in the 1920s floundered, he ended up working as an instructor at the Detroit School of Trades. That venture didn't go so well, either; the school demoted him to receptionist. When Buick died in 1929, he was flat broke.

6. Chevrolet

Remember how William Durant forced David Buick out of Buick's own company? Karma can be rough. In 1910, Durant's own creditors forced him out of his management role at the company he started, General Motors. Durant didn't stay down for long, though. He teamed with Swiss race car driver and mechanic Louis Chevrolet to start a new motor company in 1911. The pair named the company after Chevrolet, and legend has it that they developed a logo that resembled the Swiss cross of Chevrolet's homeland. (Other stories indicate that Durant copied the bowtie logo from a French hotel's wallpaper.)

The company quickly earned the pair quite a bit of loot. Durant suddenly had enough cash to regain control of General Motors, and in 1917 GM acquired Chevrolet. Louis Chevrolet didn't do quite as well, though. He sold his share of the company to Durant in 1914, and although his career had other highlights, including a 7th-place finish at the 1919 Indianapolis 500, he never enjoyed much financial success and eventually had to return to Chevy as a consultant.

7. Dodge

Brothers John and Horace Dodge were gifted machinists who began a Michigan bicycle company in the 1890s. Eventually they sold this business and began creating transmissions for Olds in 1902 and then Ford in 1903. However, they longed to create cars of their own, so in 1913 they left their lucrative supplier positions at Ford and started working on their own car designs. The brothers' cars were soon the second-hottest sellers in the country, and they were fabulously wealthy.

8. Mercedes

In 1897, Austrian entrepreneur Emil Jellinek began ordering Daimler cars that he could drive in some of Europe's quickly growing auto races. It took a few years, but by the dawn of the 20th century, Jellinek had a number of Daimlers that he adored driving. He often raced under an assumed name when driving these cars; he took on the name of his 12-year-old daughter Mercedes. In 1900, Jellinek worked out a deal with Daimler to order 36 new cars on the condition that the cars be called Mercedes. Daimler agreed, and the famed luxury brand name was born.

9. Volvo

The Swedish automaker's name is Latin for "I roll," a conjugation of the word volvere. The company got its start as part of the Swedish ball bearing company SKF, and after SKF trademarked the Volvo name in 1915, the company planned to put the "Volvo" name on most anything that rolled, from bears to bicycles to automobiles. The plan wasn't quick to get off the ground, though; thanks to World War I, Volvo didn't actually start its car business until 1926.

And a few quick ones:

10. Cadillac: Named for Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, the French explorer who founded Detroit in the early 18th century.

11. Saab: Abbreviation of "Svenska Aeroplan Aktiebolag," which is Swedish for "Swedish Airplane, Limited."

12. Volkswagen: German for "people's car."

13. Lexus: Toyota went to its ad agency and an image-consulting firm when it needed a name for its luxury division. At first, they decided on "Alexis," but it gradually evolved into Lexus.

14. Mazda: According to Mazda's website, the brand's name is borrowed from the Zoroastrian religion. Ahura Mazda is the Zoroastrian "God of reason who granted wisdom and united man, nature and the other gods."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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