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The Quick 10: Your Exclusive Pass to Club 33

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Club 33: it’s one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. Nope, it’s not a password-protected bar in New York. And it’s not an invite-only nightclub in L.A. (though it’s in the vicinity). Nope - you can find the uber-private Club 33 located right next to the Blue Bayou restaurant and Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland. Until you get in, here are 10 facts about Walt's VIP room to tide you over.

1. The reason behind the "33" has never actually been revealed. Theories include that it stands for the 33 sponsors Disneyland originally had, that Walt Disney simply liked the way the numbers looked together, and that the club just takes its name from its address: 33 Royal Street, New Orleans Square. I suspect the address is named after the Club and not the other way around, but that's just my opinion. Photo via LMU Alumni

2. There are amazing collectibles within the walls of Club 33 that some diehards would give a pretty penny to glimpse. I'd love to look at the original Marc Davis sketches of the Haunted Mansion's stretching portraits or some of the concept work for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, but there's also props used in Mary Poppins and The Happiest Millionaire, among others.

3. Dying for a stiff drink after a hot day in the park with the kiddos? Club 33 is the only place in Disneyland that will satisfy that particular thirst. Alcohol isn't served anywhere else on premises (though the hotels and Downtown Disney certainly do).

4. There's an old-school glass elevator in the club that guests can ride if they so choose; it was relocated there from Walt's personal residence.

5. Not only will  you sit for years (at last count, the wait list was about 14 years or so) on the Club 33 waiting list, you'd also better be prepared to write a fat check. Corporate memberships will set a company back $25,000 in initiation fees, then $5,925 annually thereafter. Individual memberships are a bargain at $9,500  in initiation fees and a mere $3,175 annually thereafter. 

6. The Trophy Room is a dining area with animatronic wildlife on the walls. At one time, Walt had the room wired with secret microphones at each table so he could listen in from a hidden room and respond to conversations via an animatronic vulture, surprising patrons. Since Walt died before Club 33 opened, the idea was scrapped. The animals remained for quite some time, but they have since been removed. The only vestiges of the idea are Walt's original vulture and the microphones that are still quite visible at the bottom of the lighting fixtures.

7. Don't be surprised if you spot a celeb or two having a quick meal at the exclusive club. Johnny Depp sometimes pops in when he's around, and Elton John has played the antique harpsichord that decorates one of the hallways.

8. In addition to dining privileges, Club 33 members get free park hopper tickets when they dine in the club. They also get six fast passes to jump in the fast lane to ride the attractions, free valet parking, behind the scenes tours, access to special merchandise and, reportedly, the ability to summon any of the park's characters to the club as long as it's done in advance.               

9. I hear the ladies' bathroom at Club 33 is probably the finest bathroom you'll ever visit. The toilet? It's an actual throne.                                            

10. I'm hoping to get in myself one of these days and report back, but until then, I'll just have to live vicariously through videos like these:

Have any of you been inside? Did it live up to the hype?

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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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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]