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12 Food Brands Named for People (and Whether Those People Were Real)

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These names are probably all over your kitchen—but did they belong to real people?

1. Betty Crocker

Fictional. The name was created for the Washburn Crosby Company (which would later merge with other businesses to form General Mills) by Marjorie Husted as a way to personalize the company’s products and customer relations. Husted picked the first name Betty because it sounded “warm and friendly,” and combined it with Crocker as a tribute to retired Washburn Crosby executive William Crocker. 

2. Sara Lee

Real. Baker Charles Lubin owned a small chain of Chicago bakeries in the early 20th century. Among his products was a cheesecake named after his young daughter, Sara Lee Lubin. He later changed the name of the business to Kitchens of Sara Lee, and when it was later acquired by the Consolidated Foods Corporation, it became one of the company’s leading brands. Based on that strength, Consolidated Foods adopted the name Sara Lee for the whole corporation. Sara Lee didn’t follow her father into the baking business, but instead has worked to encourage and support women working in science.

3. Aunt Jemima

Fictional. Aunt Jemima-esque “mammy” characters have been used as racial caricatures for ages. The businessmen who developed an early ready-made pancake mix reportedly saw one such character in a black-face minstrel show in the late 1800s and appropriated the image to brand their new product. Aunt Jemima was later brought to life when the business’s new owner hired Nancy Green, a former slave, to portray the character in ads and at events. Green made her public debut in character at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where she charmed the crowds and doled out pancakes from a booth. The Jemima brand soon became so popular that Green secured a lifetime contract, and the business was renamed the Aunt Jemima Mills Company.

4. Captain Morgan

Real. Sir Henry Morgan sailed the high seas during the 17th century as a privateer. The Welsh sailor made his name defending British interests and raiding Spanish ships and towns throughout the Caribbean. After a stint in prison for continuing to harass and pillage the Spanish after a peace treaty was signed, he was knighted and appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica. 

5. Chef Boyardee

Real. Ettore Boiardi was an Italian immigrant who worked as a chef in New York and West Virginia hotels (where he supposedly catered Woodrow Wilson’s second wedding) before opening his own restaurant in Cleveland. There, he started selling bottles of his pasta sauce, and soon expanded the operation with a factory in Pennsylvania. He dubbed the canned and bottled products “Chef Boy-Ar-Dee” to help consumers pronounce his name. 

6. Dr Pepper

Probably fictional. Pharmacist Charles Alderton developed the formula for Dr Pepper while working at W.B. Morrison & Co. Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas in 1885. The drink was named by Alderton’s boss, Wade Morrison. Records from the store show that they’d played around with a similar name before, and had a recipe for a digestive aid called “D. Pepper’s Pepsin Bitters.” According to the Dr Pepper Museum, there are dozens of stories that connect the name to real-life Doctor Peppers that Morrison might have known, but no conclusive links have been established. 

7. Famous Amos

Real. Wallace Amos was a entertainment talent agent who worked at the William Morris Agency. To woo potential clients, he’d send them packages of his home-made cookies. In the 1970s, friends suggested that Amos make cookies his full-time business. He opened the first “Famous Amos” store in Los Angeles in 1975 and then began supplying cookies to grocery stores around the country. 

8. Mrs. Fields

Real. Debbi Fields and her then-husband Randall opened their first bakery in 1977. Fields began franchising in 1990 and then sold the business while staying on as the company’s spokesperson. There are now more than 650 Mrs. Fields stores in the U.S.

9. Jimmy Dean

Real. Dean was already a well-known country singer, actor, and TV personality when he and his brother Don founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company in 1969. They later sold the company, and Dean stayed involved in management and as a spokesperson until management phased him out. 

10. Marie Callender

Real. Don Callender opened a wholesale bakery to supply pies to restaurants in the late 1940s. He named the business after his mother, claiming that no one would want to buy from a place called “Don’s Pies.”

11. Oscar Mayer

Real. German immigrant brothers Oscar, Gottfried, and Max Mayer ran a butcher shop in Chicago in the early 20th century, which was one of the first companies to get on board with the USDA’s new meat inspection grades. To capitalize on their hometown popularity, they started branding their products with Oscar’s name when they expanded their business. 

12. Uncle Ben

Maybe real. Converted Rice Inc. supplied rice to the American military during World War II, and the owners wanted a new brand name and image when they started focusing on civilian consumers towards the end of the war. According to the company, Uncle Ben was a real rice grower known for high-quality product in founder Gordon Harwell’s native Texas, and the brand was named for him as an homage. Not much else is known about the real Ben, and it’s not even his picture on the box. That image is instead said to be based on the maître d' of the restaurant where Harwell and his business partners sometimes met. 

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]