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The Quick 10: 10 Twilight Zone references in Disney's Tower of Terror

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Most people spent the weekend grilling out or boating or enjoying parades and fireworks; I spent mine refinishing our kitchen floor and watching The Twilight Zone marathon on SciFi (soon to be SyFy). I wasn't around for the first incarnation of the series, and I was too young to really appreciate the revival in the '80s. So, as blasphemous as it may be, my first real introduction to Rod Serling's fascinating mind was The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney World's Hollywood Studios (then MGM Studios). I got some of the sly references to Twilight Zone episodes on the ride just from being a bit of a pop culture freak, but now that I'm more familiar with the series (not just from the marathon), I realize there are tons of references. Each imagineer who helped develop the ride watched every single episode of the original series - that's 156 episodes - twice. Here are a few of my favorites:

tina1. Talky Tina. If you follow my Twitter at all, then you might already know that I think this is the scariest Twilight Zone episode ever. Starring Telly Savalas, the show is about a man whose stepdaughter has a doll that has it in for him. While it normally says things like, "I'm Talky Tina! Want to play?", it spews forth hatred for Mr. Savalas in the form of, "I'm Talky Tina and I'm going to kill you." It's truly creepy. And, terrifyingly, you can find Talky Tina sitting quietly on the couch in the lobby of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, waiting for a new friend. I'd advise you to steer clear.

2. Caesar the Dummy. In "Caesar and Me," a ventriloquist starts to commit serious robberies at the insistence of his wooden partner, Caesar. Of course, we don't know if the ventriloquist has lost his marbles or if the doll is really alive, but we definitely find out at the end when the ventriloquist goes to jail and the dummy plans to run away with the girl who informed on his better half. Caesar is lurking in an especially spooky spot: after your elevator descends and you're waiting on the ride doors to open, look around the "elevator shaft." There's a display of old junk sitting in the dark like you're in the storage room of, well, an old hotel, and amongst the junk is the scheming Caesar.

3. Cadwallader. "Escape Clause" is about a man who makes a deal with the devil - he trades his soul in exchange for immortality. I don't need to tell you the end of the story to for you to get the reference - the devil calls himself Cadwallader. And after you check out the "inspection" certificate outside of the elevator you're about to get on, you might rethink your ride: it's signed by a Mr. Cadwallader and it's dated October 31, 1939. It's also certificate #10259, which stands for October 2, 1959 - the day the first Twilight Zone episode aired.

fremont4. Anthony Fremont. The episode "It's a Good Life" actually has a couple of references, although only one is intentional. The other was just necessary. You'll see what I mean in a second. The intentional reference is an old sign that advertises "Anthony Fremont and his orchestra, now appearing at the Top of the Tower" at the Tip-Top Club. In "It's a Good Life," Anthony is a little boy who mentally controls an entire town and makes them do what he wants. If they act outside of his wishes, he has the power to send them to "the cornfield," and no one comes back from the cornfield. It was part of the 1983 Twilight Zone movie, if it sounds familiar. So that's Anthony. "It's a Good Life" is also where the opening narration for the ride comes from. Rod Serling says, "Tonight's story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a m..." and from there, a Rod Serling impersonator takes over, personally selected by Serling's widow. "Maintenance elevator," is how the impersonator finishes the sentence, but Rod's original narration said, "map of the United States." Photo by Photobucket user brnder.

5. Nan Adams. Miss Nan Adams is a character in "The Hitch-Hiker," an episode from the first season of The Twilight Zone. Nan is on her way from New York to L.A. when she gets a flat tire. While she waits for a mechanic to fix it, she notices a strange man watching her. She's a bit rattled, especially when she continues on her journey and keeps seeing the man pop up in odd places along the road. When Nan calls home to check in with her mother, she is informed that Nan's mom had a nervous breakdown upon hearing of her daughter's death in a freak car accident. It's then that Nan realizes that she died in the accident when her tire blew out, and the man following her is actually Death. This makes the handwritten note you'll find in the Hollywood Tower Hotel's lobby rather humorous: "Miss Nan Adams
Reservations for Oct. 31 - Arrival delayed Hold Room"

THIMBLE6. A golden thimble. This one is exclusive to the Tower of Terror at Disney's California Adventure, as far as I know. In "The After Hours," a woman goes to a department store to find a birthday gift for her mother. She tells the elevator operator that she is looking for a gift and he takes her to the ninth floor and drops her off. There's nothing on the ninth floor, save for a single saleswoman who happens to have a single golden thimble - exactly what she's looking for. On the way back down, she notices a scratch on the thimble and heads to customer service to exchange it. The problem? Customer service calmly informs her that there is no ninth floor. If you think a golden thimble is just what your mother needs, the Hollywood Tower Hotel has just the thing in their gift shop... at least, according to the display case in the lobby.

7. To Serve Man. It's one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes ever - aliens come to Earth, but it's almost too good to be true: they help people end war, they show them how to produce enough food so that no one will ever go hungry, and they are all around-fabulous. They even offer to send humans to their amazing planet free of charge, just to open up a free exchange of sorts. The Earthlings find a book belonging to one of the aliens, and, not totally trusting them, decide to go on a covert mission to decipher the book. It takes them years, but they finally figure it out: the title of the book is To Serve Man and it's chock-full of delicious recipes. Apparently the humans didn't notice that no one ever came back from the aliens' planet. The book is now on display in the library in the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

meredith8. Broken Glasses. Poor Henry Bemis - his wife and boss just won't let him sit down and read in "Time Enough at Last." On his break at work as a bank teller, he sneaks down to the vault and shuts himself in so he can read in peace and quiet where no one will see him or taunt him. While he's in there, an H-Bomb goes off, leaving him as the sole survivor. He's picking through the remains of the town when he finds the public library. Delighted, he stacks up all of the books he's going to read. Just as he is about to sit down to enjoy them, his glasses fall off and shatter on the cement, leaving him utterly blind. And now you know the story behind the shattered glasses underneath the television in the library of the Tower at California Adventure (rumor has it they're in Orlando too... anyone seen them?).

9. Chalk Marks. Before Poltergeist, there was "Little Girl Lost." A couple wakes up and hears their daughter calling for help but can't seem to find her anywhere. She's fallen into another dimension - the Twilight Zone, if you will - and they do everything they can to find her, including chalking off entryways on the wall (which is how they eventually find her). Someone has been looking for that otherworldly dimension in the boiler room of the Hollywood Tower Hotel, because there are similar chalk marks on the wall there.

morgue10. Room 22. Another DCA exclusive. In "Twenty-Two," Miss Liz Powell is a stripper who has been committed to a hospital because she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Every night she has a nightmare that she wakes up and hears a nurse outside her door. The nurse motions that Liz should follow her, so she does - down to the morgue in the basement. The nurse pops up from inside the dark room and says, rather wickedly, "Room for one more, honey." Liz is finally given the clearance to go home and arrives at the airport to check in, where it turns out that she's on Flight 22. As she climbs the stairs to board the plane, a stewardess steps out, smiles coldly, and says, "Room for one more, honey." Liz screams and runs back into the airport and watches from the window as the plane takes off - and explodes (a little Final Destination, right?). At DCA, Room 22 is located by some out-of-order elevator doors. Word to the wise: trust the sign.

If you could throw in whatever TZ reference you wanted to, what would it be? I think I might throw in an old traveling salesman-style suitcase with junk in it to reference "One for the Angels." It's an episode starring Ed Wynn as a traveling salesman who has to pitch a sale to Death in order to save a little girl's life. Ed Wynn did a lot of work for Disney, including voicing the Mad Hatter and laughing on the ceiling in Mary Poppins, so I think it would be fitting. Share yours in the comments!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]