Original image

The Quick 10: 10 Abandoned Disney Projects

Original image

We leave for our annual Halloween Disney World trip in a little more than two weeks and I am getting ridiculously excited. I can't wait to ride the Haunted Mansion 13 times (a lofty goal that we never reach), get creeped out at the Tower of Terror and glimpse a sighting of the elusive Yeti on Expedition Everest. But what I won't be doing is visiting the Spain section of EPCOT, eating at David Copperfield's Magic Underground, or staying at the Persian-themed resort. Why? Because they're not there, obviously. But they could have been! Check out these 10 projects that were planned but never realized for one reason or another.

western1. Western River Expedition. This was going to be a huge attraction at the Magic Kingdom, the biggest built at the time. It was going to center around a big structure called Thunder Mesa, and it would have worked like this: an animatronic owl by the name of Hoot Gibson would narrate you through various old west scenes like bank robberies, a rain dance, a scene with prairie dogs and buffalo, and, of course, cowboys. It would have been similar to Pirates of the Caribbean, except subtract the water and the swashbucklers. So why wasn't it built? Well, because of the pirates, actually. Even though there was a ride at Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean wasn't planned for the Florida park because execs didn't figure Floridians would find pirates very unusual. When guests got to the park and discovered that their scraggly swindlers were missing, however, they raised quite the ruckus. It didn't take Disney long to figure out that they could build the pirate attraction about 60 million dollars cheaper than the Western River Expedition, so it was really a no-brainer. Never mind that the WRE had already been advertised to the public and even outlined as a future attraction in current maps. The concept artwork pictured is from The Neverland Files, where you can find much more detailed information on this never-realized attraction.

SPAIN2. Israel, Africa, Spain and the Soviet Union at EPCOT. Lots of country additions have been rumored over the years, but these were so far into development that signs were put up in the World Showcase telling guests where they could expect to find these countries in the future. Except"¦ not so much. Many of these countries can be found with temporary spots at the Food and Wine Festival, but none of them actually came to have a permanent home there, presumably due to budget constraints "“ except for the Soviet Union, that is. It was already decided that the Soviet section of the World Showcase would center on a replica of St. Basil's Cathedral; the rest would include a movie about the country and a ride complete with animatronics. There was even a press release announcing the addition. But then the Soviet Union collapsed and Russia's economy plummeted, along with the plans to include them at EPCOT. The Spain advertisement is from

3. German River Ride. Speaking of EPCOT, the Germany pavilion was supposed to be more than shops selling cuckoo clocks and restaurants with sausage and sauerkraut "“ it was also going to have a boat ride that took guests on a trip down the Rhine, Isar, Tauber and Ruhr Rivers, with fabulous views of German landmarks like the Cologne Cathedral. They even went so far as to construct the building that would hold the ride before axing the boats "“ next time you go there, check out the Biergarten area and you'll see how it could have once been a ride queue. The part of the building that would have held the actual ride now houses floats and is also a rehearsal area.

4. The Muppet Movie Ride. This would have been great. After Disney-MGM Studios opened and Muppet*Vision 3-D proved to be an enormous success, Disney started working with Jim Henson to incorporate more Muppet stuff into the park, including a restaurant and a ride similar to The Great Movie Ride (which isn't so Great these days) but, of course, starring the Muppets. Unfortunately, Jim Henson died shortly thereafter, and all ideas of any Muppet expansions were shelved.

5. David Copperfield's Magic Underground. In the late "˜90s, David Copperfield was going to open his own chain of magic restaurants kind of like Planet Hollywood or the Hard Rock Café. His Magic Underground was slated to have locations in Hollywood, Times Square, and Disney-MGM Studios. Signs around the park and at Pleasure Island advertised the magician's venue and told guests it was coming soon, but then Copperfield made the whole project disappear. OK, to be fair, it wasn't exactly him "“ it sounds like it was a perfect storm of financial reasons and creative disputes. All of the restaurants went poof, even the one that was nearly complete in Times Square.

ak logo6. Beastly Kingdom. When the Animal Kingdom park opened in 1998, it wasn't entirely done yet, so Disneyphiles assumed that the section called "Beastly Kingdom," which would focus on mythological animals, was still under construction but still on the books. Plans had been released, and Beastly Kingdom was to include a "Quest of the Unicorn" hedge maze, a large castle structure "ruined" by vicious fire-breathing dragons that would house a rollercoaster, and possibly a boat ride based on Fantasia. The Beasts have yet to materialize because of "“ what else "“ budget problems, but you can still spot references to the unrealized kingdom around the park "“ there's a section in the parking lot named "Unicorn," a dragon can be seen in the Animal Kingdom logo (pictured), there's a dragon-shaped fountain near the section of the park called Camp Minnie-Mickey (totally out of place, but it's where Beastly Kingdom would have started), and a statue of a dragon head that sits atop one of the ticket booths at the entrance. I don't think it's ever been said that the idea is totally dead and the rumors about its re-emergence are resurrected every year. I guess we'll see about that one.

persia7. The Persian Resort was a monorail-accessible hotel that was going to be built to the east of the Magic Kingdom, north of where the Contemporary Resort is now. Apparently there is some evidence that the Shah of Iran was ready and willing to fund the whole affair, but that was before the oil crisis. Once that happened, the project was canned and hasn't been considered again (as far as we know). But you can see what it might have looked like in this concept drawing to the left! During the same time frame, plans and concept sketches were drawn up for a Venetian Resort and an Asian Resort. These also fell victim to the oil crisis. In 1988, the Grand Floridian was built on the spot being considered for the Asian Resort.

8. Fire Mountain was a rollercoaster being considered for the Adventureland area of the Magic Kingdom in the late "˜90s. It would have taken guests on a thrilling trip through an active volcano. Michael Eisner loved the idea and was making plans to locate the ride between Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain, or possibly to the south of Pirates. But then the plans were axed. We don't know why (money; it's always money), but we do know that some of the ride's characteristics have been picked up in a rollercoaster at Tokyo DisneySea.

9. Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers. Oh, my husband will lament the fact that this one never came to fruition. I don't think it's a secret that Disney was banking on the 1990 movie Dick Tracy to be a huge smash hit. It wasn't. But back when they still had high hopes for a new franchise, Imagineers were working on Crimestoppers, an interactive high-speed chase through Chicago, complete with Tommy Guns. A press release announcing the revolutionary new ride was put out"¦ and then the film tanked at the box office and the ride was given cement shoes. But not all was lost "“ the Tommy Gun technology ended up paving the way for the interactive shooting adventure Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

NIGHTMARE10. The Nightmare Before Christmas Ride. Here's another one I would have been thrilled to ride. This would have allowed guests in flying coffins to help Jack Skellington "save Christmas." It was all planned out in detail, from queue theme (the Halloweentown graveyard) to the happy ending where Jack and Sally hug in the snow. Although the concept was abandoned with no reason given, (it would have been next to It's a Small World at Disneyland; can you imagine stranger juxtaposition?), Disney has since incorporated Nightmare into the Haunted Mansion every year from Halloween to Christmas. You can read more about the details of the ride at The Neverland Files, where the picture comes from.

There are plenty of unrealized Disney rides and resorts to discuss "“ do you remember one I left off of the list? Let us know! And have a good weekend.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image

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]