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The Quick 10: The Jungle Cruise

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Welcome to part two of “my brain went on vacation three days ago even though my plane doesn’t leave until tomorrow.” (Here’s part one from yesterday). Today we’re visiting the Jungle Cruise. Everyone turn around and wave good-bye to the folks back on the dock… They may never see you again. But then again, you probably never saw them before, either.

1. I’ve been known to drop a bad pun or two myself now and then, so it’s no surprise that my favorite part of the Jungle Cruise are the ridiculously bad jokes delivered with perfect apathy (“And now, we’re approaching beautiful Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous African explorer, Dr. Albert Falls.”) But those weren’t always part of the ride. When it debuted at Disneyland, the Jungle Cruise was actually a very serious trip through exotic locations. All of the funny scenes and jokes were added years later.

2. When Walt was first planning the attraction, he thought about using live animals. When a zoologist convinced him that many of the animals were mostly active at night, leaving daytime guests to exciting views of catnapping creatures, Walt opted for creatures he could control.

3. As he was known to do, Walt gave his television show audience a preview of what was being built in the park. Before the Jungle Cruise had water, Walt drove a Nash Rambler (one of the show’s sponsors, by the way) through the dry “riverbeds” to show off Schweitzer Falls and the crude mechanics of the animals.

4. According to legend, it’s the Jungle Cruise that inspired Walt Disney to view his parks as never complete and always upgrading. The story goes that Walt was strolling through Disneyland when he heard a young boy asking his mom to take the eight-minute trip through t e jungle. Not even slowing her stride, the mother replied something to the effect of, “No, we did that last time we were here.” Hearing that, Walt decided he had to keep changing and improving things in order to keep guests coming back.

5. I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: famous Jungle Cruise Skippers include Kevin Costner, John Lasseter, Ron Ziegler (Richard Nixon’s press secretary), and the lovely Jen from Cake Wrecks.

6. How do you get the aesthetic provided by exotic plants without shelling out the big bucks for shipping them in and maintaining them? Just use Disney’s tactic: “plant” an orange tree upside down and let vines grow and twine around the exposed roots.

7. Another styling trick – that murky water you sail through is dyed brown, which is dual purpose. It’s a more realistic portrayal of swampy waters, of course, but it also conceals the fact that the cruise ships are on a track in a pool that’s less than four feet deep in most areas.

8. If you pay the money for a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior airplane, you might as well get your money’s worth, right? Disney used the front half for the Casablanca scene in The Great Movie Ride at Hollywood Studios, then used the back half for the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom. You can spot it near the Hippo Pool scene.

9. You might think that getting the animals’ eyes to glow as you make your way through the Asian temple is a high-tech trick, but it’s really just the opposite. Their eyes are really just marbles painted with a reflective coating.

10. Everyone knows about hidden Mickeys – a little nod to the mouse hidden throughout the parks and rides. What I like even more are the other inside jokes scattered here and there, like the one outside of the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. A pair of crates sits bundled with some barrels as if it’s cargo ready to be shipped. A close look at the addresses reveals that one is going to “Thomas Kirk, Esq., M. Jones, Cartographers Ltd. Field Office, Island of Bora Danno”. The other is addressed to “Kenneth Annakin, Director of Imports, Wyss Supply Company, Colony of New Guinea.”
This is a reference to the Disney movie Swiss Family Robinson. Tommy Kirk played Ernst Robinson in the 1960 film, then went on to play the title character in the 1964 movie The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. James MacArthur, the actor who played Fritz Robinson, later played Danny Williams – you know, “Book ‘em, Danno” on Hawaii Five-O. So that’s the first crate explained. The second crate refers to Ken Annakin, the direction of Swiss Family Robinson, and “Wyss Supply” is a little wink to the author of the original book, Johann Wyss.

I’ll be Tweeting pics and updates starting tomorrow if you’re dying to take a little vicarious vacation!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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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]

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