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5 Books That Probably Won't Be Adapted into Movies

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From director Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge-ification of The Great Gatsby to the Joss Whedon-ing of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Hollywood has found no shortage of books to adapt to the big screen as of late. But not all authors are quick to hand over their movie rights to film producers. Here’s a look at five big-time books that won’t go Hollywood on us any time soon.

1. One Hundred Years of Solitude

Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez refuses to yield the rights to his best-selling novel, a book that journalist William Kennedy called “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.” Though most of his novels (including Love in the Time of Cholera in 2007) got the big screen treatment, Marquez thinks Hollywood will botch his best-selling chronicle of seven generations of the same family: “They would cast someone like Robert Redford and most of us do not have relatives who look like Robert Redford.”

2. The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger got burned by Hollywood once—a 1949 flick called My Foolish Heart (based on the author’s short story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut") got trounced by critics—and the thought of bringing Holden Caulfield to the big screen was “odious enough to keep me from selling the rights,” he said. Salinger’s biggest gripe was that his protagonist would be “essentially unactable. A Sensitive, Intelligent, Talented Young Actor in a Reversible Coat wouldn't nearly be enough."

In a scathing 1957 letter, Salinger vehemently ranted against a possible adaptation, stating: “Since there’s an ever-looming possibility that I won’t die rich, I toy very seriously with the idea of leaving the unsold rights to my wife and daughter as a kind of insurance policy. It pleasures me no end, though, I might quickly add, to know that I won’t have to see the results of the transaction.” The author, who died in 2010, got his wish.

3. The Silmarillion

Peter Jackson got his hands on pretty much everything Lord of The Rings related, spinning J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy saga into blockbuster epics. But Tolkien’s notoriously bulky collection of Middle Earth history isn’t likely to join its counterparts in theaters. That’s because Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who published The Silmarillion posthumously, is the author’s literary executor—the guy with full control over the literary copyrights.

Christopher Tolkien refuses to relinquish the rights, since he thinks a film wouldn’t be in the best interest of Middle Earth’s fandom and doesn’t think J.R.R. Tolkien would have wanted to see it get adapted. Until Christopher decides to sell the rights (it would be copyright infringement to adapt the book without them), fans will have to make do waiting for the next two Hobbit installments and probably nothing else.

4. Encyclopedia Brown

The boy detective himself probably couldn’t solve the case of why his long-lived series (first published in 1963, last published in 2012) hasn’t found itself a Hollywood franchise yet. The twist is that the author himself, Donald Sobol, foiled adaptation attempts at every turn until he died in 2012. Producer Howard Deutsch picked up the movie rights in 1979 for $25,000, but Sobol wouldn’t even recognize the producer. (On Deutsch: “Don't talk to me about that name. He's no hero.") 

Sobol filed a lawsuit against Deutsch in 1983, demanding $20 million in defiance of the rights agreement and spoiling a 1980s adaptation that would have starred Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn. Others who hoped to have a hand in adapting the series? Johnny Carson, Anthony Hopkins, Ridley Scott, and animation company Hanna Barbera.

[Update: We might have called this one too early.]

5. The Thrawn Trilogy

After the disappointing Star Wars prequels, fans hoped the sequels would return to official canon, since leaving Lucas to his own devices again would be like the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field: unlikely. Many fans hoped Episode 7 would adapt Timothy Zahn novel Heir to the Empire—the first of the “Thrawn trilogy,” a collection of novels post-Return of the Jedi—as a blockbuster.

But it turns out that the Star Wars brain trust has no plans for incorporating the widely accepted trilogy into the sequel scripts. A LucasFilm source told NBC News that “it’s an original story,” shooting down the rumor like a womp rat. 

Primary image courtesy of Collider

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]