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The Endless Summer Reading List: 14 Long-Running Novel Series

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If you're anything like me, you finish your summer reading list by mid-July. To help curb your end-of-summer reading blues, here are some of the longest-running series of novels in the most popular genres. If you're so inclined, these will keep you busy until next summer.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Discworld "“ 62 books (37 novels and 25 companion books)

This groundbreaking series takes place in a fictional disc-shaped land populated by wizards, elves, and even a walking suitcase. The stories borrow from standard fantasy tropes, but uses them in a humorous, often satirical way. And if 37 novels isn't enough, there are also 25 supplemental books on topics ranging from short stories to maps, and even educational books that use the series to help explain real scientific concepts.

Deathlands -135 books and counting (including a spin-off series)

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If elves, wizards, and barbarians aren't your thing, how about nuclear bombs, machine guns, and teleportation devices? Created by Jack Adrien and James Axler, the series takes place in a world devastated by nukes, making food, supplies, and civilized people a rarity. Ryan Cawdor and his band of post-apocalyptic warriors use top secret teleportation machines to explore and fight their way across the vast wasteland that was once America. A sequel series, Outlander, continues the story one hundred years later as society begins to recover, though it still has a long way to go before it's civilized.

Malaf Al Mostakbal (The Future Files) - 158 books

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In this series by Egyptian author Nabil Farouk, a team of scientists are brought together as the Egyptian Scientific Intelligence Agency (ESIA) to deal with madmen using technology to commit crimes. Their leader, Nour, is an all-around genius, and the rest of the team includes specialists like a communications guru, an engineer, and even a computer tech who is artificially aged so she can join the ESIA. In later books, after aliens invade Earth, the series goes off in some wild directions including time travel, outer space adventures, and into other dimensions of reality.

Romance

Montana Mavericks "“ 63 (including spin-offs)

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The citizens of Whitehorn, Montana, include a woman who takes in a fugitive and ends up falling in love (Outlaw Lovers), a respected woman judge who marries a mysterious stranger tied up in a custody battle for his infant child (The Law is No Lady), and a widow who must repay her husband's debt to a ruggedly handsome cowboy by whatever means necessary (The Widow and the Rodeo Man). Not exactly Norman Rockwell material. The original 12 books were followed by nine spin-off series, whose stories ranged from historical romance to Christmastime flings.

Fortune's Children "“ 69 books (including spin-offs)

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The Fortune Family "“ rich, powerful, and good-looking "“ is a dynasty of American business. The series and its six spin-offs have been running since 1996 and feature a seemingly never ending supply of Fortune heirs. Many of the stories handle romance like a business deal, entered into only to save the family business or protect the family name. Of course the characters end up finding true love in the end, but the pretenses for these relationships must require a lot of couples' counseling.

Action/Adventure

The Destroyer "“ 149 books

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Remo Williams is part of an elite squad of covert government operatives called CURE. He is trained by Chiun, a Master of Sinanju, a fabled form of martial arts that gives its disciples super-human powers like the ability to dodge bullets. The original series, created by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, started in 1971 and ran until 2006, followed by a short-lived series, The New Destroyer. The books were adapted into a movie, 1985's Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, starring Fred Ward, but it was not well-received by the books' fans nor the authors, who integrated jabs at the film into later novels.

Nick Carter: Killmaster "“ 260 books

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First printed in 1964, the series was a knock-off James Bond with fewer gadgets. But what Killmaster lacked in exploding pens, it made up for in all-out action and gratuitous sex (seems like a fair trade-off). Nick Carter of AXE, a super-secret espionage organization, is a master spy thanks to his cunning, good looks, and his favorite weapons "“ a German Luger named Wilhelmenia, a stiletto knife named Hugo, and a gas bomb named Pierre. Cheesy but popular, the series was a mainstay on the paperback racks until the 1990s. While the sheer number of novels is impressive, perhaps more so is the fact that there is no official author of any of the books "“ all the writers used the same pen name: Nick Carter.

The Executioner "“ 709 books (including spin-offs)

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Mack Bolan was a skilled sniper, registering 97 confirmed kills in the Vietnam War. But when virtually his entire family was murdered, Bolan came home to seek revenge on those responsible: the Frenchi crime family. Created in 1969 by Don Pendleton, the main series "“ currently on book #369 "“ has spawned four long-running spin-offs: Able Team (53 books), Phoenix Force (58 books), the Stony Man series (#102 is due in August 2009), and Super Bolan (#127 is due in July 2009). If The A-Team was your favorite show, or The Punisher is your favorite comic book, these books ought to be right up your alley.

Kids/Young Adult

The Baby-sitters Club "“ 207 books

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During the series run from 1986 until 2000, it seemed like every 10-year old girl was reading The Baby-sitters Club books. Following the adventures of Kristy Thomas and her gang of middle-school babysitter friends, the series was a cultural phenomenon, branching into a TV series and a feature-length film. In the final book, the frozen-in-time heroines finally graduate the 8th grade and move on to high school, signifying the end of the "BSC," as well as the end of an era for many young readers who, two decades later, still hold fond memories of the series.

Inspector Jamshed "“ over 400 books

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While Harry Potter might seem daunting to some kids, seven books is nothing compared to this vast library of spy/detective novels - some as long as 2000 pages - by Pakistani author Ishtiaq Ahmad. Popular from the 1970s through the 1990s, the series followed the adventures of Inspector Jamshed (sometimes spelled "Jamshaid") and his three children, Memood, Farooq, and Farzana. Most stories had a Muslim moral message, so they had parental approval even if some kids were only reading for the adventure aspect. The books are pretty hard to find in America, making them collectors' items for Pakistani adults looking to recapture their youth.

Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys "“ 616 books combined

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When it comes to kid lit, very few beat the one-two punch of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys. The adolescent Sherlocks have been a publishing powerhouse since the Boys debuted in 1927, followed by Nancy in 1930. With numerous spin-offs (nine each for Nancy and the Boys, and even three separate series of cross-over adventures), the total number reaches a staggering 616 books. That'll keep even the most voracious young reader occupied until school starts up again.

Mystery

Perry Mason "“ 87 books

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Mason got his start in 1933 with the first of many novels by writer Erle Stanley Gardner, a self-taught lawyer who passed the California state bar exam in 1911. The books usually featured Mason and his crew of investigators digging up evidence to prove their client's innocence, as well as finding the real guilty party. Over the years, the Mason novels have been adapted to TV (Raymond Burr's 1957 "“ 1966 series is the quintessential portrayal), radio, comic books, and 30 TV movies. And through all that, he never lost a case. What are the odds?

Nero Wolfe "“ 97 books (including novellas and companion books)

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Nero Wolfe, the rotund, beer-drinking recluse, who spent much of his time "“ and completed almost all of his crime-solving "“ inside his New York City brownstone, debuted in 1934. Over the years, author Rex Stout wrote 87 novels and novellas, as well as three companion books, including a cookbook of the foody detective's favorite dishes. After Stout's death, the series continued for seven more books by Robert Goldsborough, writing with the Stout estate's approval. Like Perry Mason, books were just the beginning for Wolfe, who branched into radio, a popular TV series on A&E, and even shows on Italian, Russian, and German television.

Did we miss your favorite book series? Or do you have some suggestions for great summer reading? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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