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Your Favorite Authors Are Frauds: 6 Famous Ghostwriters

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It’s almost like learning the truth about Santa Claus: Once you know, it’s so obvious, but you're still a little heartbroken when you discover that your favorite author didn’t really pen most of the work with his or her name on the cover. Take comfort, though, in the knowledge that many of those ghostwriters are talented enough to be successful under their own names. Here are a few of them.

1. Peter Lerangis

If you know young adult novels, you probably know Mr. Lerangis. His 140 titles include books in The 39 Clues series, two series of his own (Watchers and Drama Club) and the critically acclaimed historical fiction Smiler’s Bones.

Millions of us of a certain age, however, are most familiar with Lerangis’ undercover work masquerading as a bunch of tweens from Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Lerangis wrote approximately 40 books in The Baby-Sitters Club series, including Mary Anne’s Makeover. He also did a little ghosting for the Sweet Valley books (Twins and High).

2. Andrew Neiderman

V.C. Andrews was just a few books into her empire when she passed away from breast cancer at the age of 63. The last book in the Dollanganger series that made her famous, Garden of Shadows, was started by Andrews but finished by Andrew Neiderman. With the blessing of her family, Neiderman took over in 1986 and is still writing under the V.C. Andrews name to this day.

Between his V.C. Andrews work and writing his own novels, Neiderman has had more than 100 books published. The most well-known is probably The Devil’s Advocate, a 1990 novel that was made into a film starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. Hallucinations, mental institutions, and insanity, all wrapped up with a Gothic bow ... kind of makes sense that a V.C. Andrews-style author was involved in that story, don’t you think?

3. H.P. Lovecraft

The father of Cthulhu and the Necronomicon dabbled in ghostwriting for none other than Harry Houdini. Lovecraft had long been a contributor to the pulp magazine Weird Tales when the founder, J.C. Henneberger, contacted him about ghostwriting for the famous escape artist. The magazine was in a little financial difficulty and Henneberger felt that “true” stories from Houdini would help sales. For $100, Lovecraft churned out “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs" in less than a week and earned himself a big fan in Mr. Houdini, who offered him more ghostwriting opportunities. The piece was later retitled "Under the Pyramids," and Lovecraft was given a byline.

4. Raymond Benson

Raymond Benson is probably best known for his work with everyone’s favorite secret agent: He wrote 12 James Bond novels between 1997 and 2002, including the novelizations of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough. It's not surprising, then, that he’s also the man behind another spy-thriller franchise, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell.

Though a glance at the cover might lead you to believe that the novelization of the video game was written by Tom Clancy, a closer look will reveal that it was written by “David Michaels,” who doesn’t really exist. Benson used the Michaels pseudonym for the first and second book in the Splinter Cell series, and after that another author was hired to use the same moniker.

Benson has also written novelizations of the video game Metal Gear Solid, computer games based on Stephen King’s The Mist and Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard, and the 2011 thriller novel The Black Stiletto. He also wrote The Pocket Guide to Jethro Tull.

5 & 6. Daniel Ehrenhaft and Ryan Nerz

Like Ann M. Martin, Francine Pascal didn’t have much to do with the huge hit series bearing her name. The final Sweet Valley books were penned by a gaggle of ghostwriters, including Daniel Ehrenhaft and Ryan Nerz.

So how did a couple of dudes in their 20s get into the minds of a bunch of teen girls clamoring to hear Elizabeth and Jessica’s latest exploits? “I had to smoke a lot of weed. I’m kind of kidding, kind of not,” Nerz told The Hairpin in August. He also admits to consulting his sister when he needed detail for scenes that included, say, makeup application.

Interestingly, Ann Brashares (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) was Nerz’ editor; Cecily von Ziegesar (Gossip Girl) was an editor during the same time period.

Nerz now writes books that are decidedly adult, including Eat This Book (a first-hand account of the competitive eating circuit) and MARIJUANAMERICA (perhaps the reason he decided to investigate the competitive eating circuit).

Ehrenhaft has stayed in the YA genre and has quite a few titles under his belt, including the recently released Americapedia. He’s also a member of Tiger Beat, a band made entirely of Young Adult authors.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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