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6 Famous Novels Penned in Under a Month

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It’s National Novel Writing Month! Some people criticize the concept, claiming that novels written in under a month aren’t going to be worth the paper they're printed on. But there are plenty of examples to prove the naysayers wrong. In fact, many classic, bestselling novels were penned within this time frame. While these authors completed these fine pieces of literature without the motivation of National Novel Writing Month, they still serve as an excellent example to those hoping to complete their own works this November.


1. The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas: Irish novelist John Boyne said he was so wrapped up in this engrossing tale of a boy living through the Holocaust that he wrote the entire thing in two and a half days, barely stopping to eat or sleep throughout the ordeal. He notes that his other novels took months of planning and effort to write, but this story simply could not be slowed.

2. On The Road: The so-called “beatnik bible” that inspired an entire generation was penned in only three weeks. Granted, Jack Kerouac spent seven years travelling across America and taking detailed notes the entire time, but the actual fruits of his labor took less than a month to put on paper. It’s worth noting that he typed the entire draft on one 120 foot long piece of teletype paper that he taped together before writing.

3. A Study In Scarlet: The novel that introduced the famed detective work of Sherlock Holmes to the masses took Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle three weeks to write in 1886. This story was also notable for being the first Sherlock Holmes story to be adapted to the silver screen.

4. The Tortoise and the Hare: In 1954, Elizabeth Jenkins wrote this tale in three weeks after being romantically entwined with a man who refused to leave his wife. She revealed in an interview in 2005, “I have never looked at it since; it marked an era to which I had no desire to return.”

5. The Gambler: Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote this tale in 26 days while also writing Crime and Punishment. He was heavily in debt and addicted to gambling and saw the semi-autobiographical novella as a good way to help him pay off his debts. He later ended up marrying the young stenographer to whom he dictated the story.

6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: Muriel Spark took only one month to write this novel about a fictionalized version of her teacher, Christiana Kay. She said the story was inspired by a 1960 class assignment: “We were given to write about how we spent our summer holidays, but I wrote about how [my teacher] spent her summer holidays instead. It seemed more fascinating.”

If you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month, good luck! We hope these stories helped inspire you to get cracking.

Note: This article originally appeared last November.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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