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15 Things You Didn't Know About DuckTales

Even if your life wasn't like a hurricane in 1987—no race cars lasers, or aeroplanes—you may have been a DuckTales fan. As fans await Disney's reboot of the series, which will premiere this summer with Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, Bobby Moynihan, and David Tennant, here are a few facts about Scrooge McDuck and his daring grand-nephews.

1. SCROOGE EARNED HIS LUCKY NUMBER ONE DIME BY GIVING A SHOESHINE IN HIS HOMETOWN OF GLASGOW WHEN HE WAS JUST 10 YEARS OLD.

That's according to Don Rosa’s Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck comic. And it’s not just any old dime—it is, specifically, a 1875 or 1857 (depending on which comic you read) Seated Liberty dime. Depending on which year it is and the condition it’s in, that dime would be worth up to $700 today. It's not much compared to Scrooge's massive money pit, but it's nothing to sneeze at.

2. ALAN YOUNG, WHO WAS THE VOICE OF SCROOGE, WAS ARGUABLY MORE WELL-KNOWN FOR HIS WORK WITH ANOTHER NON-HUMAN: MR. ED.

Alan Young played Wilbur Post, the famous talking horse's owner. Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby were voiced by Russi Taylor, who was also the voice of Minnie Mouse.

3. IF THE SHOW HAD FOLLOWED THE COMICS MORE CLOSELY, DONALD DUCK WOULD HAVE BEEN PART OF THE DUCKTALES GANG.

Disney producers decided that they really wanted the focus to be on the stingy Scot, so they took Donald out of the equation. (In the upcoming reboot, Donald is known as “one of the most daring adventurers of all time.”)

4. MARK MUELLER, THE MAN RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT OH-SO-CATCHY THEME SONG, ALSO WROTE THE CHIP ‘N’ DALE RESCUE RANGERS THEME SONG.

Ok, that makes sense. But how about this: He also wrote Jennifer Paige’s “Crush” and Amy Grant’s “That’s What Love is For.”

5. EXACTLY HOW BIG IS SCROOGE’S MONEY BIN? THREE CUBIC ACRES.

Which doesn’t make sense, of course, and I’ll let author and economic historian John Steele Gordon tell you why. This is what he noted to the Wall Street Journal in 2005:

“An acre is a measure of area (i.e. two dimensions). If you have a ‘cubic acre,’ you would have a four-dimensional space—a three-dimensional space existing in a specific time frame. Hell, add another dimension and you get a late-'60s soul/R&B singing group. A cubic acre, of course, is Carl Barks's wonderfully meaningless measurement of Scrooge's infinite wealth. Lewis Carroll would have loved it. But as a child I calculated that a cubic acre would have a side 208.7 feet long (square root of 43,560) and thus a volume of 9,090,972 cubic feet. So Scrooge's money bin would have been 27,272,916 cubic feet in size, an adequate piggy bank by any measure.”

A later story by Don Rosa, however, showed blueprints for the vault that pegged its size as 127 feet by 120 feet.

6. BEAGLE BOYS LEADER MA BEAGLE WAS MODELED AFTER THE INFAMOUS MA BARKER OF THE BARKER-KARPIS GANG.

An incomplete lineup of Beagle Boys includes Bigtime, Burger, Bouncer, Baggy, Bankjob, Bugle, Bebop, Babyface, Megabyte, Bomber, Backwoods, Bacon, Bullseye, Bulkhead, Butterball, Bombshell, Bankroll and Brainstorm.

7. DARKWING DUCK WAS INSPIRED BY THE DUCKTALES EPISODE “DOUBLE O' DUCK.”

In fact, Darkwing was originally called Double O' Duck, and would have starred wannabe spies Launchpad McQuack and Gizmoduck.

8. THE DUCKTALES VIDEO GAME HAD AN ALTERNATE ENDING.

If you managed to beat the DuckTales game but bankrupted Scrooge, you were one of a select few people who saw the alternate “Sad Scrooge” ending. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, you don’t have to manage that particular feat. Voila!

9. YOU CAN STILL PLAY THE ORIGINAL DUCKTALES GAME ONLINE.

You're welcome? (Just don’t blame me when your productivity plummets this weekend.)

10. ACCORDING TO THE EPISODE "DOUBLE O' DUCK," DUCKBURG IS HOME TO ABOUT 315,000 RESIDENTS.

That makes it roughly the size of St. Louis.

11. IT'S HARD TO SAY WHERE DUCKBURG IS, EXACTLY.

The comic books place the town in Calisota, a fictional state in the U.S. But Calisota itself seems to move about the country, depending on the artist, the storyline, and whether we're talking comic book or TV series. Various maps have showed it on the west coast, in Pittsburgh, and even somewhere near Virginia.

12. CARL BARKS TOOK HIS INSPIRATION FOR MAGICA DE SPELL FROM TWO ITALIAN ACTRESSES: GINA LOLLOBRIGIDA AND SOPHIA LOREN.

He was also inspired by Morticia Addams. “Disney’s always had witches who were ugly and repulsive,” Barks once said. “Why shouldn’t I draw one that’s not ugly, but outright sexy?”

Getty/Disney Wikia

13. CRITICS WEREN'T PARTICULARLY KIND TO DUCKTALES AT FIRST.

The Los Angeles Times believed the public was going to be hugely disappointed in the quality of the animation, and wondered why anyone would try to give Scrooge more dimension when people already loved him as a money-hoarding miser.

14. THE SHOW'S APPEAL WAS UNIVERSAL.

In 1991, DuckTales became the first American cartoon to be shown in the former Soviet Union.

15. WITHOUT THE ADVENTURES OF SCROOGE AND THE BOYS, INDIANA JONES MAY NOT HAVE EXISTED.

According to D23, the official Disney fan club, both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have said that the gang's comic capers heavily influenced Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

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]

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