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11 Things You Might Not Know About Dr Pepper

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You already know that Dr Pepper has a unique, spicy flavor, but did you know its corporate history is just as crisp and interesting? 

1. It’s Got Texas Roots 

Like many beloved soft drinks, Dr Pepper was the product of experimentation in a pharmacy. Charles Alderton, a pharmacist at Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store in Waco, Texas enjoyed experimenting with the flavored syrups at the shop’s soda fountain. Instead of just accepting the standard fruit flavors available at the time, in 1885 Alderton mixed and matched flavorings until he had crafted a unique drink that customers loved. 

2. There May Have Been An Actual Dr. Pepper.

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Once Alderton perfected his new concoction, it needed a name. Patrons originally referred to the drink as “a Waco,” but Alderton’s boss, Wade Morrison, thought the elixir needed a catchier name. Morrison dubbed the drink Dr. Pepper in a nod to a Dr. Charles T. Pepper who he claimed had been a colleague in his younger days in Rural Retreat, Virginia. In one telling of this story, Morrison had left Virginia for Texas after a love affair with Dr. Pepper’s daughter went flat, but signs point to this romantic origin tale being mostly urban legend. 

3. The Texas Soda Took the National Stage at the 1904 World’s Fair 

Texas’s favorite soda fizzed its way into the national consciousness at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. As the Dr Pepper Museum notes, the drink joined the ice cream cone, the hamburger, and the hot dog in making their first big splashes at the event. 

4. Legally, It’s Not a Cola 

For much of Dr Pepper’s history, the drink was a regional delicacy confined to the South and Southwest. Coca-Cola and Pepsi had used their head starts on Dr Pepper to build nationwide networks of independent bottlers who had exclusive franchise contracts to turn their respective syrups into colas. Dr Pepper simply couldn’t crack into new markets with the deck stacked so squarely against it. 

That all changed in 1963. A federal court ruled that Dr Pepper’s unique flavor kept it from being a “cola product,” which meant that bottlers were free to distribute Dr Pepper without running afoul of their exclusive deals with Coca-Cola and Pepsi. By the end of the decade, Dr Pepper was available from coast to coast. 

5. Coca-Cola Didn’t Take This Expansion Lightly

Dr Pepper, Facebook

A terrific 1975 D Magazine profile of Woodrow Wilson “Foots” Clements, the executive who took Dr Pepper national, chronicles Coca-Cola’s response to the upstart’s growth. In June 1972, Coca-Cola announced Mr. PiBB, its in-house answer to Dr Pepper. The article contains some classic sniping between the two brands, with a Coke spokesperson dismissing any resemblance by saying, “I haven’t tasted Dr Pepper myself so I wouldn’t know how similar Mr. PiBB is to it. I don’t think it was meant to compete with Dr Pepper - as far as I know Coke just felt there was a market for this kind of soft drink." 

Clements, for his part, countered that Coke’s efforts had actually helped Dr Pepper’s sales. The executive crowed, "I don’t suppose they like to hear me say this in Atlanta, but Mr. PiBB has just stimulated the taste for Dr Pepper. In fact, we’ve found that whenever they quit giving it away in big promotions their share of the market drops way down." 

6. There’s No Period In the Name 

It may have allegedly been named after a physician, but the correct styling of the name is “Dr Pepper,” not “Dr. Pepper.” The company dropped the period from the name in the 1950s as part of a redesign of the corporate logo. Most sources suggest that the revamped logo was easier to read without the punctuation, and Dr Pepper was reborn. 

7. It’s Not Just For Drinking Cold 

OBSEQUIES, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A cold Dr Pepper can be heavenly on a hot day, but very few families gather around their Christmas trees for a frosty soda in December. In the 60s Dr Pepper tried to stimulate holiday sales by marketing hot Dr Pepper with lemon as a festive alternative tipple for winter gatherings. The ads found some traction in the South, but as you’ve probably noticed, warm Dr Pepper didn’t become a holiday staple. Still, hot Dr Pepper had its devotees. In the 70s Foots Clements told multiple journalists that he would have three or four hot Dr Peppers in the morning and a half-dozen cold bottles every afternoon. 

8. The Original Recipe May Have Surfaced in 2009.

Six years ago, Oklahoma manuscript collector Bill Waters paid $200 for an old store ledger at a Texas antique shop. Notations in the ledger referred to Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store, examples of Charles Anderton’s handwriting, and a curious recipe for “D Peppers Pepsin Bitters” mixed from mandrake root and syrup. A spokesman from the Dr Pepper Snapple Group indicated that the notes were probably a recipe for bitter digestive aid rather than a soft drink, but the historical find went up for auction as the original formula for the beloved soda. Attendees at the auction agreed—the item did not fetch $25,000 minimum reserve price. 

9. Roanoke Can’t Get Enough of It. 

Whether or not there was ever a real Dr. Charles T. Pepper in Virginia remains a matter of debate, but one Virginia city would rather drink a cold Dr Pepper than engage in fact-checking. Roanoke has been Dr Pepper’s biggest metro market east of the Mississippi, and in 1957, the city became the “Dr Pepper Capital of the World.” One secret to the drink’s success in the area? That story about Wade Morrison’s youthful heartbreak at the hands of Dr. Pepper’s daughter may or may not have been true, but the local romance resonated with Roanoke’s soda drinkers and appeared prominently in area promotions.

10. A Special Variant Disappeared in 2012. 

For 121 years, a bottling plant in Dublin, Texas made and bottled Dr Pepper. By 2012, the Dublin Bottling Works was the country’s tiniest bottler and also the most unusual. Its “Dublin Dr Pepper” was still being made with cane sugar years after the rest of the country had switched to high fructose corn syrup. It was also sold in special retro bottles. After a yearlong legal dispute over distribution territories and labeling, in 2012 the Dr Pepper Snapple Group bought the franchise rights to the area and discontinued Dublin Dr Pepper. However, the news wasn’t all bad for fans of the product – Dr Pepper Snapple Group agreed to keep making real-sugar Dr Pepper for this region of Texas. 

11. There’s a Dr Pepper Museum.

Ann W, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

If you need to inject some Dr Pepper into your next road trip, Waco is home to a museum devoted to its native beverage, including its creation and iconic advertising campaigns like 1977’s “Be a Pepper.” 

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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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