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8 Unofficial Special Event Days at Disney

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While there are plenty of official special event days at Disney theme parks to let you meet like-minded people, they don't cater to every niche audience. So several groups have taken matters into their own hands and organized unofficial Disney event days. Here are a few you might want to attend (or avoid).

1. Dapper Day – February 20, 2011 (2012 TBA)

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When the “Imagineers” were planning Disneyland in the 1950s, the concept artists always envisioned families at the park dressed in their Sunday best – men wore suits, women wore skirts, and kids were seen running to the next attraction in dress shoes. The idea was that Disneyland was high-class entertainment; like a night at the theater, you wouldn't wear just anything to a day at Disneyland. (Of course if you've ever been to the park, you'll know that most people are dressed like they're going to the gym, not the opera.)

In an effort to bring back the original vision of the artists, designer Justin Jorgensen created Dapper Day, which asked that guests come to Disneyland dressed in mid-20th Century semi-formal attire. Considering 2011 was the first year, a small but respectable group of about 30 people dressed for the occasion. They looked like extras in Mad Men. The Dappers hung out at appropriately old timey locations like Main Street and the Mark Twain Riverboat before settling in at the Golden Vine Winery. Recently, Jorgensen said he's thinking about adding a second Dapper Day this summer, as well as expanding the event to Disney World.

2. Gay Days – May 31–June 6, 2011 & September 30–October 2, 2011

In 1991, Orlando native Doug Swallow thought it would be fun to get some of his fellow gay friends together for a day at Disney World. Thinking others might want to join them, he decided to open it up to anyone in the gay community, with the stipulation that they “wear red and be seen.” News of the event spread through the community quickly, but Swallow was still only expecting 15 or 20 people to show up. Instead, on June 1, 1991, around 1,500 gays and lesbians attended the very first “Gay Day.”

Today, “Gay Days” fills an entire week in June, and has also expanded to Disneyland for the first weekend of October. With upwards of 150,000 people in red shirts from all over the world in Orlando, and around 30,000 for the weekend in Anaheim, Gay Days have become a true vacation destination for those in the LGBT community. Both events naturally include trips to the park, but there are parties hosted in the hotels, restaurants, bars, and other non-Disney tourist destinations in the area, helping bring in an estimated $100 million to Orlando's economy every year.

3. Star Wars Day – June 26, 2011

If you're a Star Wars fan, you're probably well aware of Disney's Star Wars Weekends that take place every year in May and June. There's a parade that includes Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Stormtroopers, and plenty of other fun things to do, all inspired by a story from a galaxy far, far away.

Unfortunately, for fans living in California, Star Wars Weekends are only at Disney World, not Disneyland. In protest, a group got together in 2005 and started their own Star Wars Day at Disneyland. While fanboys and girls won't get to meet Darth Vader (no costumes are allowed in the park), they can proudly wear their favorite Star Wars t-shirts to show their solidarity and meet up for lunch at the Pizza Port. There's a group photo at 2:00 in front of Cinderella's Castle (a popular fan day destination). To commemorate your attendance, there's an official Star Wars Day t-shirt for sale, with all proceeds going to The American Cancer Society.

4. Harry Potter Day – November 6, 2011

Most fan days are a simple get-together with little more than a planned meet-up for a group photo. But since 2006, the folks behind Harry Potter Day at Disneyland go above and beyond to give their 250 round eyeglass-wearing attendees an experience they won't soon forget.

For 2010's “Potter at the Park,” fans were split into houses and then ventured out on a park-wide scavenger hunt, filled with characters dressed in appropriately Potterish clothes who helped the teams along the way. The first team to find all the “horcruxes” won a special medallion emblazoned with the event's logo – a Disneyfication of the Death Eater tattoo. If you can't make it to Disneyland in November, the group also has “Potter Lite” days as well. [Image courtesy of Harry Potter Day at Disneyland!]

5. Raver Day – June 11, 2011 (Winter 2011 TBA)

Raves might have hit their peak in popularity a while ago, but there's still a dedicated culture out there that loves to dress in colorful clothes, collect “kandi” bracelets, and dance the night away amidst the neon shine of glowsticks. Since the late-1990s, ravers have been gathering at Disneyland for the occasional Raver Day, but it was never a very organized event. That is until 2001, when a small group of fans calling themselves “Magic in the Making” took over promotion, helping to expand the event to two days - one in the spring and another in the winter – with attendance now reaching over 1,000 people for each day.

6. Bats Day – May 6-8, 2011

The idea of Goth fans at the Happiest Place on Earth might seem like a contradiction, but Bats Day, the annual meeting of Goth and Industrial fans, has been happening at Disney World since 1999. Started by a few Goth night clubs, the first Bats Day only had about 80 people in attendance, but it now welcomes over 1,000 black-clad fans every year. The one-day event has since been extended into a full weekend's worth of dark fun in and out of the park, including a Black Market (a place to buy spooky stuff), and, new for 2011, a costume ball where guests are required to dress as the recently departed.

7. TRON Fan Day – April 8, 2012

The newest unofficial day is TRON Fan Day, the first of which was held on April 10, 2010. Created by the folks over at pop culture news site Nuke the Fridge, the event was created to celebrate the release of TRON:Legacy on Blu-ray/DVD. Users wore “Flynn Lives” t-shirts, carried Identity Discs, and posed for a few group shots in front of Cinderella's Castle and the new ElecTRONica dance club. There's already one in the works for 2012, so hop on the grid and book your plane tickets now. [Image courtesy of Dave Lucchesi.]

8. Yippy Day – August 6, 1970

While these unofficial Disney Days generally go off without a hitch, August 6, 1970, didn't go quite so smoothly. On that day, 300 Yippies — members of the Youth International Party, a radical branch of the anti-Vietnam War movement — converged on Disneyland to “liberate Minne Mouse,” as well as protest the park's longstanding, unwritten policy against letting long-haired people inside (a policy that had, ironically, been quietly relaxed shortly before the day of the invasion).

Previously, 3,000 Yippies had successfully taken over New York's Grand Central Station. The group had been a major part of the 1968 Democratic Convention protests (three of the Chicago Seven were Yippies), and would later effectively shut down the United State government during 1971's May Day Protests. So when Disneyland officials heard the group was planning to protest at the park, they took the threat seriously. However, the high level of mayhem they expected was never realized, as only about 200 people showed up, most of whom were just there to tag along for fun rather than to support any kind of serious political agenda.

Still, the group caused a small amount of trouble by climbing on some of the displays and smoking pot at concerts. The Yippies also took over Tom Sawyer's Island, where they reportedly raised the Viet Cong flag (other reports say it was the Yippies' “New Nation” flag), before passing around joints to celebrate their “victory.” [Image courtesy of BrandTech News.]

The Yippies also infiltrated the parade on Main Street, singing a song about Ho Chi Minh, which was quickly drowned out when everyone else started to sing “God Bless America.” By this time, people who were not part of the invasion started to get fed up – and fought back. Reportedly, many Yippies were hit with purses, cameras, and good old fashioned fists, as park-goers became frustrated that their vacation was being ruined. During a scuffle, a park security guard was injured, and that was the last straw; to protect everyone, the park officials played their trump card.

Because Disneyland administrators knew about the invasion in advance, hundreds of police officers from Anaheim and the surrounding county were already at the park that day, hiding in the back lot behind Main Street, equipped with batons, helmets, and riot shields. On request, the police came streaming out into the park to get things under control. Many of the Yippies scattered, so the only thing the police could do was shut the park down five hours early and clear it out section by section.

Shortly after, the “No Long Hair” policy was reinstated.
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Have you ever been to an unofficial fan day at Disney? Do you know of one that we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.