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http://www.wunderlandkalkar.eu/en

8 Strange Amusement Parks From Around the World

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http://www.wunderlandkalkar.eu/en

In the six years since we wrote about some of the weirdest amusement parks on Earth, many other strange parks have opened, so it seemed fitting to do a follow-up. While these parks may not be the happiest places on earth, they just might be some of the weirdest.

1. Wunderland Kalkar, Germany

In 1973, construction started on a nuclear power plant outside of Dusseldorf, but it never went online due to construction issues and protests. The system did actually go into partial operation for about a year, but the nuclear materials did not yet arrive, and after 1986's Chernobyl disaster, the project was cancelled altogether.

When the property was sold off in 1991, one Dutch entrepreneur saw a perfect business opportunity. He purchased the property and converted it into an amusement park that features more than 40 rides—including a swing ride and climbing wall, which are both built on the iconic cooling tower.

2. Išgyvenimo Drama, Lithuania

If you've ever wondered how well you'd survive in an oppressive military prison, here's your chance to find out: Išgyvenimo Drama doesn't offer any spins or drops like your favorite rollercoaster, but it will probably give you more chills than any ride ever could—because this attraction puts you right inside a Soviet-era prison.

The bunker dates back from the USSR occupation of Lithuania, and those who choose to experience the drama are treated to a terrifying historical reenactment. Visitors to the survival experience are first forced to surrender all of their possessions and change into Soviet coats. They are then ordered to put on gas masks, learn the Soviet anthem, eat a typical Soviet meal, submit to a medical exam, and undergo a Gulag-style interrogation by employees who were previously employed in the Soviet army (many of whom were even interrogators in their positions). Those who survive are given a shot of vodka to help calm their nerves before returning to regular society again.

3. Action Park, New Jersey

It seems anyone who lived in New Jersey between 1978 and 1996 has memories (or nightmares) of the legendary Action Park, a place with a reputation that would put any imaginary horror park to shame.

Thanks to poorly-designed, shoddily-constructed rides, ambulances were a common sight at the park. In fact, Vernon Township, where Action Park was located, had to buy more ambulances (nicknamed the "Action Park Express") solely to keep up with the park's injuries (including six fatalities). The park was so infamous that it inspired its own short documentary.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Action Park, though, is that the company that owned it and helped earn the park such a fearsome reputation recently repurchased the park and re-opened it under the same name this summer.

4. Beijing Shijingshan Amusement Park, China

In what could easily be called the Copyright Infringing-est Place on Earth, visitors are invited to enjoy a suspiciously familiar-looking castle and to take photos with characters that strongly resemble Mickey Mouse, Shrek, Hello Kitty, Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Betty Boop, Winnie the Pooh, and other famous trademarked characters, which the park owners claim are all based on Grimm's Fairy Tales. If that all strikes you as mere coincidence and not serious copyright infringement, consider the park's old slogan: "Disney is too far to go, please come to Shijingshan!"

Unsurprisingly, park owners have been sued multiple times, but the park remains open although they do seem to periodically discontinue using particular icons—for example, some of the Disney-inspired statues were torn down over the last few years and costumed characters seem to have largely disappeared from the park. Asia Obscura has a great, photo-filled article from a 2011 trip to the park after many of the changes took place—copyright infringement is still pretty evident, though, as is the odd mishmash of cultural icons.

5. World Joyland, China

For those who prefer copyright infringement involving video games, Changzou's World Joyland offers all the real world fun you'd expect of a World of Warcraft or Starcraft, without all those pesky licenses. It also happens to be one of China's most popular theme parks—particularly among cosplayers who enjoy showing off their creations to visitors.

Enjoy the fantastical Terrain of Magic or the high tech Universe of Starship, or get a bite to eat at a noodle house that just happens to have a mascot of a jovial, cartoon panda practicing kung fu.

6. Love Land, South Korea

South Korea's Jeju Island has been a popular destination for newlyweds ever since the Korean War. Many of the couples were joined together in arranged marriages and the partners never received sex education. In 2004, Love Land opened on the island as a sort of sex-ed park that features statues, films and interactive exhibits based around sexual activities. It takes about one hour to go through the whole attraction, which is only open to those 18 and over.

7. Ferrari World, UAE

If you want to make a splash in the UAE, the rule is "go big or go away." Ferrari World is no exception: The attraction is not only home to Formula Rossa, the world's fastest roller coaster, as well as the world's largest Ferrari logo—but the park itself is the world's largest indoor amusement park, covering over 2 million square feet.

As you may guess, the rides and attractions tend to be Ferrari-themed, but even those who aren't car crazy will still likely enjoy themselves on the flume rides, roller coasters and other traditional amusement park attractions.

8. Parque Jaime Duque, Colombia

What do you look for in an amusement park? If your answer is "naked, gender-swapped versions of famous statues," then you need to head down to Colombia's Parque Jaime Duque, where you can enjoy a massive, nude, male version of the Statue of Liberty—and that's only one of the park's 700 strange sculptures. The park also offers a miniaturized version of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and "Dante's Castle," a magical boat ride based on Dante's Inferno.

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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
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]

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