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8 Unofficial Special Event Days at Disney

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While there are plenty of official special event days at Disney theme parks to let you meet like-minded people, they don't cater to every niche audience. So several groups have taken matters into their own hands and organized unofficial Disney event days. Here are a few you might want to attend (or avoid).

1. Dapper Day – February 20, 2011 (2012 TBA)

[Image courtesy of DapperDay.com.]

When the “Imagineers” were planning Disneyland in the 1950s, the concept artists always envisioned families at the park dressed in their Sunday best – men wore suits, women wore skirts, and kids were seen running to the next attraction in dress shoes. The idea was that Disneyland was high-class entertainment; like a night at the theater, you wouldn't wear just anything to a day at Disneyland. (Of course if you've ever been to the park, you'll know that most people are dressed like they're going to the gym, not the opera.)

In an effort to bring back the original vision of the artists, designer Justin Jorgensen created Dapper Day, which asked that guests come to Disneyland dressed in mid-20th Century semi-formal attire. Considering 2011 was the first year, a small but respectable group of about 30 people dressed for the occasion. They looked like extras in Mad Men. The Dappers hung out at appropriately old timey locations like Main Street and the Mark Twain Riverboat before settling in at the Golden Vine Winery. Recently, Jorgensen said he's thinking about adding a second Dapper Day this summer, as well as expanding the event to Disney World.

2. Gay Days – May 31–June 6, 2011 & September 30–October 2, 2011

In 1991, Orlando native Doug Swallow thought it would be fun to get some of his fellow gay friends together for a day at Disney World. Thinking others might want to join them, he decided to open it up to anyone in the gay community, with the stipulation that they “wear red and be seen.” News of the event spread through the community quickly, but Swallow was still only expecting 15 or 20 people to show up. Instead, on June 1, 1991, around 1,500 gays and lesbians attended the very first “Gay Day.”

Today, “Gay Days” fills an entire week in June, and has also expanded to Disneyland for the first weekend of October. With upwards of 150,000 people in red shirts from all over the world in Orlando, and around 30,000 for the weekend in Anaheim, Gay Days have become a true vacation destination for those in the LGBT community. Both events naturally include trips to the park, but there are parties hosted in the hotels, restaurants, bars, and other non-Disney tourist destinations in the area, helping bring in an estimated $100 million to Orlando's economy every year.

3. Star Wars Day – June 26, 2011

If you're a Star Wars fan, you're probably well aware of Disney's Star Wars Weekends that take place every year in May and June. There's a parade that includes Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Stormtroopers, and plenty of other fun things to do, all inspired by a story from a galaxy far, far away.

Unfortunately, for fans living in California, Star Wars Weekends are only at Disney World, not Disneyland. In protest, a group got together in 2005 and started their own Star Wars Day at Disneyland. While fanboys and girls won't get to meet Darth Vader (no costumes are allowed in the park), they can proudly wear their favorite Star Wars t-shirts to show their solidarity and meet up for lunch at the Pizza Port. There's a group photo at 2:00 in front of Cinderella's Castle (a popular fan day destination). To commemorate your attendance, there's an official Star Wars Day t-shirt for sale, with all proceeds going to The American Cancer Society.

4. Harry Potter Day – November 6, 2011

Most fan days are a simple get-together with little more than a planned meet-up for a group photo. But since 2006, the folks behind Harry Potter Day at Disneyland go above and beyond to give their 250 round eyeglass-wearing attendees an experience they won't soon forget.


For 2010's “Potter at the Park,” fans were split into houses and then ventured out on a park-wide scavenger hunt, filled with characters dressed in appropriately Potterish clothes who helped the teams along the way. The first team to find all the “horcruxes” won a special medallion emblazoned with the event's logo – a Disneyfication of the Death Eater tattoo. If you can't make it to Disneyland in November, the group also has “Potter Lite” days as well. [Image courtesy of Harry Potter Day at Disneyland!]

5. Raver Day – June 11, 2011 (Winter 2011 TBA)

Raves might have hit their peak in popularity a while ago, but there's still a dedicated culture out there that loves to dress in colorful clothes, collect “kandi” bracelets, and dance the night away amidst the neon shine of glowsticks. Since the late-1990s, ravers have been gathering at Disneyland for the occasional Raver Day, but it was never a very organized event. That is until 2001, when a small group of fans calling themselves “Magic in the Making” took over promotion, helping to expand the event to two days - one in the spring and another in the winter – with attendance now reaching over 1,000 people for each day.

6. Bats Day – May 6-8, 2011

The idea of Goth fans at the Happiest Place on Earth might seem like a contradiction, but Bats Day, the annual meeting of Goth and Industrial fans, has been happening at Disney World since 1999. Started by a few Goth night clubs, the first Bats Day only had about 80 people in attendance, but it now welcomes over 1,000 black-clad fans every year. The one-day event has since been extended into a full weekend's worth of dark fun in and out of the park, including a Black Market (a place to buy spooky stuff), and, new for 2011, a costume ball where guests are required to dress as the recently departed.

7. TRON Fan Day – April 8, 2012

The newest unofficial day is TRON Fan Day, the first of which was held on April 10, 2010. Created by the folks over at pop culture news site Nuke the Fridge, the event was created to celebrate the release of TRON:Legacy on Blu-ray/DVD. Users wore “Flynn Lives” t-shirts, carried Identity Discs, and posed for a few group shots in front of Cinderella's Castle and the new ElecTRONica dance club. There's already one in the works for 2012, so hop on the grid and book your plane tickets now. [Image courtesy of Dave Lucchesi.]

8. Yippy Day – August 6, 1970

While these unofficial Disney Days generally go off without a hitch, August 6, 1970, didn't go quite so smoothly. On that day, 300 Yippies — members of the Youth International Party, a radical branch of the anti-Vietnam War movement — converged on Disneyland to “liberate Minne Mouse,” as well as protest the park's longstanding, unwritten policy against letting long-haired people inside (a policy that had, ironically, been quietly relaxed shortly before the day of the invasion).

Previously, 3,000 Yippies had successfully taken over New York's Grand Central Station. The group had been a major part of the 1968 Democratic Convention protests (three of the Chicago Seven were Yippies), and would later effectively shut down the United State government during 1971's May Day Protests. So when Disneyland officials heard the group was planning to protest at the park, they took the threat seriously. However, the high level of mayhem they expected was never realized, as only about 200 people showed up, most of whom were just there to tag along for fun rather than to support any kind of serious political agenda.


Still, the group caused a small amount of trouble by climbing on some of the displays and smoking pot at concerts. The Yippies also took over Tom Sawyer's Island, where they reportedly raised the Viet Cong flag (other reports say it was the Yippies' “New Nation” flag), before passing around joints to celebrate their “victory.” [Image courtesy of BrandTech News.]

The Yippies also infiltrated the parade on Main Street, singing a song about Ho Chi Minh, which was quickly drowned out when everyone else started to sing “God Bless America.” By this time, people who were not part of the invasion started to get fed up – and fought back. Reportedly, many Yippies were hit with purses, cameras, and good old fashioned fists, as park-goers became frustrated that their vacation was being ruined. During a scuffle, a park security guard was injured, and that was the last straw; to protect everyone, the park officials played their trump card.

Because Disneyland administrators knew about the invasion in advance, hundreds of police officers from Anaheim and the surrounding county were already at the park that day, hiding in the back lot behind Main Street, equipped with batons, helmets, and riot shields. On request, the police came streaming out into the park to get things under control. Many of the Yippies scattered, so the only thing the police could do was shut the park down five hours early and clear it out section by section.

Shortly after, the “No Long Hair” policy was reinstated.
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Have you ever been to an unofficial fan day at Disney? Do you know of one that we missed? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Library of Congress
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10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.

1. THERE WERE FOUR UNKNOWN SOLDIER CANDIDATES FOR THE WWI CRYPT. 

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.

2. SIMILARLY, TWO UNKNOWN SOLDIERS WERE SELECTED AS POTENTIAL REPRESENTATIVES OF WWII.

One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.

3. THERE WERE FOUR POTENTIAL KOREAN WAR REPRESENTATIVES.

WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.

4. THE VIETNAM WAR UNKNOWN WAS SELECTED ON MAY 17, 1984.

Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.

5. BUT THE VIETNAM VETERAN WASN'T UNKNOWN FOR LONG.

Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”

6. THE MARBLE SCULPTORS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR MANY OTHER U.S. MONUMENTS. 

The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.

7. THE TOMB HAS BEEN GUARDED 24/7 SINCE 1937. 

Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.

8. BECOMING A TOMB GUARD IS INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT.

Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.

9. THE HONOR IS ALSO INCREDIBLY RARE.

The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.

10. THE STEPS THE GUARDS PERFORM HAVE SPECIFIC MEANING.

Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to TombGuard.org:

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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