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Paul Conradt

The 35 Best Costumes at the D23 Expo

Original image
Paul Conradt

Last weekend was the D23 Expo, Disney's fan convention—basically the Disney Comic-Con—and people certainly dressed to impress. Though there was a costume contest as motivation on Friday, fans dressed up all three days. Here are some of the best, courtesy of Disney unless otherwise noted.

1. From a galaxy far, far away

Natalie Portman who? This Queen Amidala took the Best in Show prize in the Heroes and Villains a la Mode contest.

2. She's Brave

This woman dressed as Merida won Best Re-Creation.

3. Enchanting

One of the judges who awarded this couple—cosplaying as Prince Edward and Giselle from Enchanted—with the Best Craftsmanship crown was a costume designer from the movie.

4. Costumer's Delight

Antagonista, winner of Best Original Design.

5. Blast off!

The Rocketeer, and the much-deserved winner of the Best Young Fan award.

6. Making a Rum for It

Jack Sparrow, of course.

7. Going Mad

Here's one attendee's take on the Mad Hatter—especially fitting, since Ed Wynn, voice of the classic character, was honored as a Disney Legend at the event.

8. supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

Photo by Stacy Conradt

A particularly inspired look for Bert from Mary Poppins, taken from the "Let's Go Fly a Kite" scene.

9. Vintage Avengers

Photo by Stacy Conradt
Retro Captain America and Thor costumes.

10. Avengers Assemble!

The whole set! Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Thor.

11. A Plane Suit

Photo by Stacy Conradt
Paperman! Loved this reference. Alas, I did not see the object of all of his plane-throwing.

12. Crossover Appeal

Rapunzel and Thor. An unlikely pair, but a charming one, don't you think?

13. Hooking Them

Photo by Paul Conradt

Peter Pan and Rufio from Hook. I was tempted to yell "Bangarang, Rufio!" but managed to contain myself. Rufio is definitely in my top three most amazing costumes.

14. Animated Ladies

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas with Ariel wearing her dress from the scene where she washes up on the shore. I appreciated the different take on Ariel—most of the time you see the seashell bra.

15. No Nightmare Here

This Jack Skellington costume was truly impressive, and amongst all of the crowds, you really lost sight of the person behind him doing the puppeteering.

16. Main Attraction

Also in my top three. Do you suppose it was the daughter's idea or the mother's? Brilliant (and adorable) either way, even if you're not a Star Tours fan (I'm not. Makes me sick).

17. Adorable Monsters

A modern Sulley and Mike Wazowski.

18. Bro Bonding

Gaston and Hercules, a pair that surely lifts weights together.

19. Playing Around

Wreck-It Ralph's Vanellope Von Schweetz and her nemesis, Taffyta Muttonfudge. The next pic is a spoiler alert if you haven't seen Ralph, so beware...

20. Real Royalty

Princess Vanellope!

21. Brace Face

The dreaded Darla from Finding Nemo.

22. Picture Perfect

A somewhat obscure reference, but one of my favorites—the tightrope walking girl from the Haunted Mansion stretching portraits.

23. And All that Jazz

Tiana and Naveen from The Princess and the Frog, followed by Mama Odie.

24. Groove Thing

Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove.

25. Me Tarzan, You...


26. Bear with Me

Queen Elinor from Brave.

27. Princess Power

Ariel and Jasmine.

28. Tweet Tweet

Kevin, the bird from Up.

29. Off the Wall

The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—AND her mirror.

30. Very Thory

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, whose staff lit up at will.

31. Trick or Treat

Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog.

32. Triple Threat

The most adorable Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather you've ever seen.

33. Ghostly

The elusive Hatbox Ghost from the early days of the Haunted Mansion. From the audio-animatronic we saw at the Imagineering booth, it looks like he may be making an appearance in the Mansion again soon. We can hope, anyway.

34. Toil and Trouble

The lovely ladies of Hocus Pocus.

35. Perfect Pair

Photo by JeniLynn Knopp

Life in plastic is fantastic (groan... I know) for Barbie and Ken from Toy Story 3.

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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]