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Flickr user PACsWorld

31 Facts About San Diego Comic Con

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Flickr user PACsWorld

Today is the beginning of the four-day comic book and pop culture convention universally known as San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC). Every summer since 1970, fans gather in the sunny city to experience the very best in pop culture. Here are 31 facts about Comic-Con International: San Diego.

1. San Diego Comic-Con was founded by comic book artist and letterer Shel Dorf, comic book storeowner Richard Alf, and publisher Ken Krueger. They wanted to give Southern California its first comic book convention—and probably had no idea they'd created what would one day become the biggest comic book and pop culture convention in the world.

2. To raise money for the convention, the founders held a one-day event on March 21, 1970, called the Golden State Comic Mini-Con, in San Diego's U.S. Grant Hotel. About 100 people attended.

3. The first official San Diego Comic-Con was a three-day event held from August 1 to 3, 1970.

Courtesy of Comic-Convention Memories

4. From 1970 to 1972, the convention was called the Golden State Comic Book Convention. The first year, it was held in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel; 300 people attended.

5. Special guests for the very first convention were comic book artist Jack Kirby and science fiction authors Ray Bradbury and A.E. van Vogt.

6. From the very beginning, SDCC's founders wanted to include not only comic books, but also many different aspects of pop culture, including films and science fiction/fantasy literature.

7. The first Masquerade Ball, a fan-made costume and makeup contest, took place in 1974.

Courtesy of Flickr user parlance

8. The first Hollywood panel at SDCC was, appropriately, about Star Wars. Charles Lippencott, the film's marketing director, showed off slides from the film. Reportedly, only a handful of attendees showed up. The capacity for the 6th Annual San Diego Comic Con was approximately 3000.

9. In 1979, $12,000 in receipts was stolen from the Comic-Con International Treasurer’s home. As a result, the organization behind Comic-Con had to ask fans for donations to pay off the debt.

10. In 1984, San Diego Comic-Con was held one month earlier than usual in June because of the Games of the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles in July and August.

11. Since 1987, Comic-Con International has also been host of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which are the Oscars of the comic book industry.  

12. San Diego Comic-Con expanded to two smaller sister conventions called The Wonderful World of Comics Convention (or WonderCon) in San Francisco in 1987 and the Alternative Press Expo (or APE) in San Jose in 1994.

13. In 2012, WonderCon moved to the Anaheim Convention Center and was re-named Comic-Con International Presents WonderCon Anaheim.

14. SDCC moved to its current home at the San Diego Convention Center in 1991.

15. In 1992, the convention hosted comic book icon Jack Kirby’s 75th birthday party.

16. Since 1992, SDCC holds an annual Comics Arts Conference, which is devoted to the study of comics; it was recently expanded to WonderCon as well.

17. In 1995, the convention changed its name again to Comic-Con International: San Diego—its official name.

18. In 1995, graphic designer Richard Bruning developed and created Comic-Con International’s iconic “eye” logo.

19. Since 2000, San Diego Comic-Con has hosted an annual film festival called the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival, which highlights the best in genre moviemaking. 

20. Thanks in large part to the popularity and box office success of 2000's X-Men, films and television shows were becoming a bigger part of SDCC by 2001. Franchise movies like Spider-Man and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones were the big highlights of the convention that year.

21. Director Kevin Smith has made guest appearances at San Diego Comic-Con since 1997. In 2007, Comic-Con organizers asked the geek icon to close out Comic-Con Saturday Nights in Hall H with an hour-and-a-half long “Geek State of the Union Address.”

Getty Images

22. In 2008, San Diego Comic-Con sold out all days and passes for the first time in the long-running convention’s history.

23. San Diego Comic-Con was featured on various TV shows throughout the last decade, including The O.C., Weeds, and Entourage. The comic book convention was also featured on the reality shows Beauty and the Geek and MTV’s Punk’d and The Real World: San Diego (watch the episode here).

24. For his sci-fi film Paul, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, director Greg Mottola set up and filmed in the Albuquerque Convention Center, which was designed to look like the San Diego Convention Center during SDCC 2010. Only exterior shots of the San Diego Convention Center were used in the film.

Courtesy of Collider

25. In 2011, director Morgan Spurlock made a documentary about the history and fan experience of San Diego Comic-Con titled Comic Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope.

26. SDCC hit its highest capacity in 2012 with more than 130,000 attendees.

27. San Diego Comic-Con isn't just a pop culture fan convention. It’s also made up of smaller events, including the Comic Book Expo, which is the official trade show for the comic book industry; the ProCon, an annual event for comic books industry creative professionals; and the Con/Fusion, which offers the best in science fiction and comic books.

28. The convention also hosts an annual Portfolio Review for aspiring comic book artists. This event places industry leaders with amateur artists and provides the artists with insightful criticism about their work. The event is also a recruiting event for comic book publishers to find new talent for their organizations.

29. The last day of San Diego Comic-Con is Kids Day, which features film festivals, events, and activities solely for children ages 12 and younger (who get into the convention for free with a paid adult admission).

30. Comic-Con International: San Diego generates an estimated $165 million each year in revenue for the city of San Diego.

31. The comic book convention has stayed in the city of San Diego since 1970, but as the convention expands, it might move to another city to accommodate its growing size. Cities like Anaheim, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles are making a bid to host the pop culture convention in the future—but the convention has a lease with the city of San Diego and its convention center until 2015.

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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.