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Dollywood Facebook Page

12 Fun Facts About Dollywood

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Dollywood Facebook Page

I spent last weekend running around Dollywood, the amusement park created by country singer Dolly Parton. In addition to having a ton of fun, I learned a ton when I was there—not just about Parton, but about the area, too. Here's a sampling.

1. Dollywood is in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which was named for an iron forge owned by Isaac Love in the 1820s. The forge, in turn, was named for the Little Pigeon River, which got its name from the flocks of passenger pigeons that used to live in the area (the birds are now extinct).

2. The park wasn't always Dollywood. It originally opened in 1961 as a small tourist attraction called Rebel Railroad. In 1970, it was purchased by Art Modell—then owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns—and renamed Goldrush Junction. Herschend Enterprises bought the park in 1976, and renamed it Silver Dollar City. Ten years later, when Parton came on board, the park was dubbed Dollywood. (You can see the first visitor's guide at the Dollywood Facebook page.) "I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area," she said when Dollywood celebrated its 25th operating season in 2010. The park is the #1 employer in Sevier County

3. The park is located on 150 acres near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is themed around the history of the Smokys, life there, and preservation of the mountains. There's even a "multi-sensory musical experience" dedicated to the area, called Heartsong.

4. On some of the days soon after its May 1986 opening, traffic to get into Dollywood stretched for six miles down U.S. 441. The park had its one millionth visitor just five months after opening; during the first season, it had 1.34 million visitors. (These days, Dollywood has 2.5 million visitors annually.)

5. Dolly grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee, the fourth of 12 siblings. "We had two rooms, a path, and running water, if you were willing to run to get it," she once said. There's a replica of the two-room cabin at Dollywood, filled with many authentic items from her old home. The cabin was built by Parton's brother, and her mother helped recreate the interior. The original cabin still stands.

6. There's a museum called Chasing Rainbows, devoted to Dolly's life, in the park; it features replicas of the room where she went to school, items from her childhood, costumes from her movies and performances, the numerous awards she's won, and walls upon walls of photos of the entertainer with actors, musicians, and presidents—many of them signed. (Former Home Improvement star Jonathan Taylor Thomas wrote on his photo with Dolly, "It was an honor meeting you. You are so very special! Love, Jonathan.")

7. In 1973, a chapel was built in the park and named for Sevier County doctor Robert F. Thomas—the very same doctor who delivered Dolly. (Parton's father, a tobacco farmer, paid Thomas with a bag of oatmeal.)

8. Dollywood has a total of 27 rides. Seven of them are rollercoasters and four of them are water rides. Unfortunately, Dolly can't go on many of them—she suffers from motion sickness! "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,'" Parton once said. "I am the same way. I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

9. You can't bring your pups into Dollywood (unless they're service animals), but you can leave them at Doggywood

10. Dollywood hosts a number of festivals, including one devoted to BBQ and bluegrass, Great American Summer, National Southern Gospel & Harvest Celebration, the Festival of Nations, and Smoky Mountain Christmas. During last year's Smoky Mountain Christmas, the park put on Dollywood's A Christmas Carol, which featured a hologram of Parton as the Ghost of Christmas Past. “When they told me they were going to make a hologram out of me, I thought they were crazy,” Parton said. “But when I saw how real it looked on stage, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure this world can handle two Dolly Partons, but I’m excited folks will be able to see ‘the other Dolly’ reminding families that it’s not what you have but who you have, just like ole Scrooge figures out in the end.”

11. Though it was built fairly recently (in the early 1980s), the park's grist mill operates just as one would have in the 1880s—and it was constructed that way, too. According to the Dollywood website, "The roof shingles were split by hand, and all the door hardware was created onsite by the park’s blacksmiths. The structure’s round logs were hewed by hand in front of the building site with holes drilled in the logs by hand using different size augers. The architectural shingles on the side of the building and all lumber were milled at the park’s sawmill ... The window panes were made by the park’s glassblowers, and each window frame was made onsite using steam engine power to operate the five-in-one machine which is now located in the Valley Carriage Works wagon shop." Construction took six months; these days, the mill grinds corn and wheat into flour every day.

12. Dollywood has a number of bald eagles—deemed "non-releasable" because they wouldn't be able to survive in the wild on their own—and a few other birds, including an owl and a raven that has toys in its enclosure. (They're smart!).

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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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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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