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Disneyland

8 Real-Life Locations That Inspired Disney Places

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Disneyland

Ever watch a Disney movie and feel slightly disappointed that you’ll never be able to visit those wondrous, fantastical places? Good news: The castles, towns, geological formations, and even buildings in many Disney movies were inspired by real-life locations. So the next time you’re feeling a little sad that you’ll never get to visit Snow White’s cottage or the Beast’s magic castle, buy yourself a plane ticket and get going. (Mining dwarfs and enchanted flatware not guaranteed.)

Places You Can Visit

1. The real place: Angel Falls in Venezuela
The Disney place: Paradise Falls in Up

Britannica/Disney

To find their inspiration for Carl and Ellie Frederickson’s dream adventure, director Pete Docter and nine of his Pixar cohorts trekked through the South American jungle. Among the inspiring landscape was Angel Falls, the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, which became Paradise Falls for the movie.

2. The real place: U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas
The Disney place: Ramone's Body Shop in Cars


NPS/Disney

Many of the places and attractions in Cars were directly inspired by a Route 66 road trip John Lasseter took with his wife and kids. Ramone’s Body Shop, for example, is a near-exact replica of the U-Drop Inn, an historic art deco gas station and restaurant built in 1936 in Shamrock, Texas.

3. The real place: Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France
The Disney place: The castle in Tangled


Wikimedia Commons/Disney

The palace where Rapunzel was stolen from her parents was inspired by the styles of many castles, but one thing was certain from the very beginning: It had to be situated on an island like Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France.

4. The real place: Chateau du Chambord, France
The Disney place: The Beast's castle in Beauty and the Beast


Chambord.org/Disney

Creating the Beast and his environment was proving to be a bit challenging for animator Glen Keane—but then he and his crew visited the Chateau of Chambord. “It was an ominous, impressive place with all of these spires and just standing there before us," he said. "I mean I’ll never forget the morning driving up there through the mist and fog and seeing it there. I thought, 'This is the Beast’s castle. This is where he lives.'"

5. The real place: Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
The Disney place: Sleeping Beauty castle, Disneyland

Neuschwanstein.org/Disneyland

When Walt and Lillian Disney took a little European vacation prior to the construction of their theme parks, one of their stops was Neuschwanstein, a 19th-century Bavarian castle commissioned by King Ludwig II in 1869. When the Disneys came back to California, they used elements of the fairy tale-like architecture in Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland’s centerpiece.

6. The real place: Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas
The Disney place: Cadillac Range in Cars

Artificial Owl/Disney

Just like Ramone’s Body Shop, Cadillac Range, the geological formation near Cars' Radiator Springs, was inspired by a famous Route 66 attraction. The “Cadillac Ranch” near Amarillo, Texas, was created in 1974 as an art installation.

7. The real place: Hotel de Glace in Quebec City
The Disney place: Elsa's ice castle in Frozen

Hotel de Glace/Disney

You probably thought Elsa’s icy powers were just fiction, but the creators of this ice hotel in Quebec City know otherwise. Director Chris Buck stayed at the Hotel de Glace to do research about five years before Frozen was released, studying ice structures and snow construction.

8. The real place: Storybook cottages in the Los Feliz neighborhood of L.A.
The Disney place: The Seven Dwarfs' cottage in Snow White

California Home Design/Disney

Many people think these Loz Feliz cottages were inspired by Snow White, but it’s actually the other way around. The cottages were designed and built by architect Ben Sherwood in 1931, and Snow White wasn’t released until 1937. At least one of the animators who worked heavily on the movie lived here while he worked on the film.

The One You Can't Visit

Disney

Despite a long-persisting rumor (and many, many Internet articles), The Lion King’s Pride Rock is not based on a real-life counterpart in Hell’s Gate National Park in Kenya. “We took a trip to Kenya to research the animals and the landscape for the movie,” co-director Roger Allers has admitted. “There are certain things lifted from the landscape, but we used a variety of inspirations. Many people try to say, 'Pride Rock is based on this mountain here,' but they are wrong. An artist in Burbank invented Pride Rock."

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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
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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