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11 Eponymous Brands and the People Behind Them

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Vidal Sassoon passed away this week at the age of 84. He was an artist who revolutionized the way women dealt with their hair, created the “bob,” and believed that women should be able to just wash their hair and still end up with a great style, rather than needing to go to a salon constantly. Starting in the 1950s, Sassoon opened a chain of salons and sold his hair products worldwide. In honor of him, here is a look at 11 other men whose famous brands they named after themselves.

1. Adolph “Adi” Dassler – Adidas

© Schnoerrer/dpa/Corbis

Adi and his brother Rudolph owned their own shoe company in Germany during the 1920s and 30s. Their products were so popular, many of the German competitors in the 1928 Olympics wore Dassler Brothers shoes. But during WWII the brothers had a falling out. While both joined the Nazi party, Rudolph was more fanatical and went off to fight, leaving Adi to make shoes for the military. After the war ended, Rudolph left and formed his own company, Puma. Adi then renamed the original company after himself, and Adidas was born.

2. King Camp Gillette – Disposable Razor

King realized early on that people liked things they could use for a short time and then throw away. Since constantly sharpening your razor was a pain, he decided to come up with a disposable one. After five years of work he finally succeeded, and founded the Gillette Safety Razor Company in 1901. King came up with the idea to give away the razor for free and charge men for the blades. He also believed in a socialist utopia, where all companies would be combined into one, which would be owned by the public. He offered Teddy Roosevelt a $1 million salary to be head of this theoretical company, but was turned down. He also believed that everyone in the United States should live in one giant city called Metropolis, which would be powered by Niagara Falls.

3. Candido Jacuzzi – Hot tubs

The seven Jacuzzi brothers emigrated from Italy to California in the early 1900s. Once there they started coming up with innovations for the big new craze: the airplane. Their biggest hit was the creation of the first plane with an enclosed cabin, which the US Postal Service bought to deliver mail. According to legend, their mother was worried about her sons’ safety and eventually convinced the brothers to change jobs. They started concentrating on hydraulic pumps for irrigation and hospital use. In the late 1940s, Candido’s young son Kenneth started suffering from arthritis. He received hydrotherapy at a hospital, but his father decided his son needed to have access to it at home as well. He filed a patent for his invention, but it wasn’t until another relative, Roy, joined the business years later that they started selling their Jacuzzi tubs to the public.

4. Charles Rudolph Walgreen – Drug stores

Today Walgreens pharmacies can be found in more than 8,000 locations around the US. But originally, Charles had nothing to do with pharmacies. He was working in a shoe factory in the late 1800s when he lost part of a finger in an accident. The doctor who patched him up managed to convince him to become an apprentice in a drug store. Eventually he became a licensed pharmacist, but enlisted to fight in the Spanish-American war before he could do anything with his new skills. At the war's end, he started opening pharmacies that also had other amenities like over-the-counter goods and soda fountains. Soon Walgreens were popular hangouts, and Charles owned a chain of hundreds of them before his death in 1939.

5. Earl Tupper – Tupperware

Earl wasn’t always in plastics. Originally he was a landscaping man, but the Great Depression put him out of business. He got a job at DuPont and created a lightweight, flexible plastic, which the government then used for gas masks during WWII. In 1948, ten years after he founded the Tupperware Plastics Company, he was contacted by a woman named Brownie Wise. At that time Tupperware was sold in stores, but Wise had started selling it at women’s get-togethers to great success. She and Earl joined forces and soon he pulled his entire line from shops and it was sold exclusively at these “Tupperware Parties.”

6. Frank Zamboni – Ice Resurfacers

Image credit: Zamboni.com

Before household refrigerators were common, the ice making business was booming. But in 1939, twelve years after Frank and his brother started their ice block business, refrigerators were popular enough that they saw little future in the venture. Stuck with many large refrigeration units, they decided to open an ice rink. It was there that Frank, who had no more than a 9th grade education, came up with a way to resurface the ice. Originally it took three men an hour and a half to get it done, but in 1949 he invented the precursor of the ice machine we know today. Now one man could resurface a rink in ten minutes. Like Xerox and Kleenex, Zamboni is a trademarked word that we now use to refer to all ice resurfacing machines. In April 2012, the 10,000th Zamboni ever sold was delivered to the Montreal Canadiens.

7. Dr. Klaus Märtens – Footwear

The Nazis were apparently very good at footwear. Like Adidas, Doc Martens were designed during WWII by Klaus while he was on leave from the German army due to an ankle injury. He experimented with making better boots for himself, and when the war was ending and Germans started looting from their own cities, he managed to get his hands on a bunch of leather. When the war officially ended he pilfered more from disused Luftwaffe air fields. He was surprised to find when he opened his shops that 40% of the people who purchased his comfortable, durable boots were housewives. Once his shoes were popular enough, an English company bought the rights to distribute them in the UK. Since it was only 1959 and feelings towards Germany were still negative, the name was Anglicized to Doc Martens.

8. Orville Redenbacher – Popcorn

The creator of the most popular popcorn in the United States didn’t even start selling it until he was almost 50 years old. Orville spent most of his life breeding corn hybrids, tens of thousands of them, until he found one that would pop 40% larger than normal corn. Since this special corn, called “RedBow,” was more expensive, many distributors were hesitant to buy it. Orville hired a Chicago marketing company for $13,000. Their advice? Call the popcorn Orville Redenbacher’s and put his picture on the label. While Orville was fond of saying his mother came up with that idea for free, it worked and starting in the 1970s he was appearing in dozens of popular television commercials and going on chat shows to convince the public he was a real person.

9. Josiah Wedgwood – Pottery

Josiah may be remembered today in his eponymous pottery, but his life was far more exciting than that association would lead one to think. In his day he was a prominent abolitionist, and his pottery company made a medallion with the design of a black slave on his knees with the motto, “Am I not a man and brother?” He produced large quantities of the medallion and distributed them for free through the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. Fashionable women started wearing them as jewelry and men smoked pipes with the image on the side. It became the most widely recognized image of a black person during the 1700s. Sadly, Josiah died before slavery was abolished in England. However, he also has the distinction of being the grandfather of Charles Darwin.

10. William Henry "Boss" Hoover – Vacuums

Boss’s last name is so synonymous with vacuum cleaners that in the UK it is both the go-to noun and verb; there they hoover the house with a hoover. But it wasn’t Boss who came up with the idea. James Murray Spangler invented the first upright vacuum in 1908 because his asthma was exacerbated by the dust the carpet sweeper used at his work stirred up. He was making one every 2-3 weeks when he loaned a model to his cousin Susan Hoover. Her husband, Boss, was looking for a new business venture since he was a leatherworker and the popularity of the car was reducing people’s need for his goods. He seized the opportunity and bought Spangler’s patent from him. But if only a few people had been interested in Boss’s leather goods, absolutely no one was interested in his weird sucking machine. Desperate, he put an ad in a popular magazine allowing what was possibly the first ever “free at home trial.” The gimmick worked and within four years the Hoover Company was an international brand.

11. Linus Yale, Jr. – Locks

Linus was originally a gifted portrait painter. But in 1858, his father died and Linus started working at the lock company his dad had founded. Once there, Linus used his drawing skills to envision ever more complex and secure locks. In order to make sure companies bought from him and not his competitors, Linus learned how to pick their locks and would demonstrate how easily they could be broken into at banks and businesses. He died of a heart attack in 1858 1868 while in the middle of negotiating the use of his locks in a new skyscraper. Yale went on to be the #1 lock manufacturer in the US.
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There are plenty more where these came from. If there's an eponymous brand whose history you'd like to know more about, leave a comment and we'll talk about a sequel.

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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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