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Pizza Tiger / Tom Monaghan and Robert Anderson

11 Facts About Domino's Pizza Founder Tom Monaghan (in 30 Minutes or Less)

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Pizza Tiger / Tom Monaghan and Robert Anderson

Domino's Pizza was founded by brothers Tom and Jim Monaghan in 1960. At the time, it wasn't called Domino's (it was an established restaurant called DomiNick's), and the brothers faced plenty of challenges getting their new business off the ground. Today, Domino's Pizza is the #2 pizza chain, second only to Pizza Hut.

In 1986, Tom Monaghan wrote an autobiography entitled Pizza Tiger, detailing how he went from one store to thousands of franchise stores. Some of the revelations in the book are a little surprising. Here we go!

1. His Brother Sold His 50% Share in Domino's for a Used 1959 VW Beetle

About eight months after taking over an ailing pizza restaurant, Jim Monaghan wanted out. He owned 50% of the business (which today rakes in over $10 billion annually), and cashed out by taking the beat-up '59 Volkswagen Beetle the brothers had bought as a delivery car.

2. He Threatened Pizza Thieves With a Meat Tenderizer and Fisticuffs

Throughout the book, Monaghan recounts stories of violence related to pizza. It seems like he had a bit of a temper. This passage, from page 97 of the paperback edition, gives you an idea (emphasis added):

I didn't take abuse from anyone. If someone refused to pay a driver for an order, I didn't call the police. I just went and demanded the money. Usually, the culprits were a bunch of college guys who'd decided to have a party at my expense, and I didn't hesitate to swing a punch to persuade them to pay up. From time to time, we'd have a rash of pizza thefts from parked vehicles while drivers were busy with customers. I'd hide in the back of the car the next time it went to that neighborhood and wait for them to try it again. I'd carry a meat-tenderizing mallet or a pop bottle as a persuader, and that approach always solved the problem.

Directly after the quote above, Monaghan describes how he beat up an employee whom he had just fired. Fortunately, the charges were dropped.

3. He Met His Future Wife on His First Pizza Delivery

Fourteen months after getting into the pizza business, Monaghan made his first delivery from a new store he'd set up in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The order was to a dormitory at Central Michigan University. When Monaghan arrived, the woman working at the reception desk, Margie, caught his eye. Monaghan wrote (page 11):

After our second date, I gave Margie a heart-shaped pizza for Valentine's Day. It was a big hit with her friends in the dorm. On our third date, I looked into those big blue eyes and realized I was in love.

They were married the following year, and Margie Monaghan worked with Domino's for decades.

4. He Was Swindled...Repeatedly

Throughout the early days of Monaghan's business dealings, he was taken in by a series of business partners who effectively stole his money. The most notable was a would-be oil tycoon, who convinced Monaghan to give him his entire savings (several thousand dollars) to drill an oil well...and then disappeared. What's more, Monaghan built up those savings in the Marines, which he says he was duped into joining. He thought he was joining the Army, and only found out it was the Marines after taking aptitude tests. Oops.

5. He's Obsessed With Frank Lloyd Wright

Throughout his book, Monaghan discusses his lifelong interest (I say obsession) with the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. For instance, on page 7 he casually drops FLW's name in this odd paragraph:

...I see no contradiction between, on the one hand, sitting down at home to a simple meal that my wife spoons out of the pots it was cooked in and, on the other, insisting that meals in the executive dining room at Domino's headquarters be of five-star quality, impeccably served, with white linen tablecloths, fine china designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, silverware, and crystal glasses.

He wrote extensively about his desire to build a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed tower as the centerpiece of a new headquarters for Domino's Pizza. On the grounds, he wrote that his collection of classic cars would be on display, along with peacocks, pygmy goats, Shire horses, miniature horses, Chianina cattle, and a museum of steam-powered farm equipment. Unfortunately, the tower was never built, though Monaghan got much of the rest done (and check out that Duesenberg!).

6. He Grew Up in a Roman Catholic Orphanage, and Founded a Roman Catholic University

Truly a self-made man, Monaghan and his brother Jim ended up in a Roman Catholic orphanage shortly after their father died and their mother couldn't handle raising the kids alone. It was a formative experience, and Monaghan is a devout Catholic to this day.

Monaghan founded Ave Maria University in 1998, located in Michigan. In 2007, he moved the university to southwest Florida, at an extremely inconvenient time for the real estate market (translation: it was costly). He also planned a community surrounding the Roman Catholic university that would be free of pre-marital sex, contraceptives, and pornography. Critics have suggested that this approach to town life violates Consitutional rights, but Monaghan told Bloomberg News: “There’s so much you can do at a university that can change the whole world. ... I didn’t want a diploma factory, I wanted a saint factory."

Monaghan and wis wife Margie met Pope John Paul II in 1987. Judging from the photo, it was awesome.

7. How He Invented the 30-Minutes-Or-Less Promise

Initially, Domino's did not offer its famous promise to deliver your pizza within 30 minutes of ordering, or it was free. This idea only came about after years of Monaghan tweaking his business practices—shaving seconds off of the time needed to make each pizza, streamlining the product line (to reduce the number of ingredients and variables), designing a new corrugated pizza box to keep the pizzas hot and protected during delivery, and all sorts of other crucial innovations.

The biggest innovation that enabled the 30-minute promise was territory. Monaghan bought up pizza joints whenever he could, slowly creating a network that meant there would be a store nearby any customer who might call. After franchising the business, the network effect continued to work, as thousands of franchisees clustered in regions in order to get pizzas to customers' doors on time. Sadly for those of us in the US, the 30-minute promise was discontinued in 1993, though it's still in effect in many international stores.

8. His Best Employees are Known as Dominoids

Monaghan presaged The Noid in his 1986 book when he wrote (emphasis added):

People respond to that [pizza-making] challenge. It's a game, and the ones who have a knack for it can go a long way in Domino's. They're the ones we call Dominoids, and we say that have pizza sauce in their veins.

This was published in 1986, the same year the "The Noid" became the official Domino's mascot. Coincidence? I think not.

9. He Maintains a Serious Diet, and Badgers Others to Lose Weight

Monaghan detailed his personal diet regimen on page 15 of Pizza Tiger:

Every Friday or Monday, or on any day that my weight has moved up over 163 pounds when I get on the scale in the morning, I limit myself to 500 calories. I eat dessert only eleven times a year: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, just before Lent, St. Patrick's Day, and six family birthdays. I call these my "pig-out" days.

He then proceeded to explain that "...over the years I've harassed some of my employees and franchisees to lose weight," and then explained how he convinced franchisee Dick Mueller to lose 100 pounds in exchange for a $50,000 bonus. (After an initial diet failure, it finally happened when Monaghan challenged Mueller to run a marathon. Monaghan presented a giant novelty check at the finish line, garnering some good PR.)

10. He Bought the Detroit Tigers at Just the Right Time

In 1983, Monaghan bought the Detroit Tigers. The next year, they won the World Series (!). Monaghan sold the Tigers in 1992 to Mike Ilitch, cofounder of Little Caesars. It's good to keep the team in the pizza family!

11. He's a Doctor of Pizzerology

In 1973, Monaghan pushed for a thorough corporate training program that would enable Domino's managers to learn the business at a deep level. Calling the program "Domino's College of Pizzerology," as of 1986 only Monaghan, the aforementioned Dick Mueller, and Jim Tilly held the "Doctor of Pizzerology" degree, though Monaghan writes that "about 20 individuals in the company hold a master's degree from the college."

More on Monaghan & Domino's

There's a ton more to the Domino's story in Pizza Tiger. It's out of print, but the book is very cheap on the used market. The copy I picked up happens to be autographed!

All images from "Pizza Tiger," 1986 paperback edition.

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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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