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9 Sequels Written Decades After the Original Book

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Today marks the release of Doctor Sleep, a new Stephen King novel that checks in with The Shining’s Danny Torrance several decades after his stay at the Overlook Hotel. It’s been 36 years since the original book was released in 1977, but such a time lapse between sequels isn’t as unusual as you might think. Here are nine other books that made fans wait decades to find out what happened next.

1. Psycho and Psycho II

Time between books: 23 years.
Why so long? Presumably, Robert Bloch was just busy writing other things. Extremely prolific with a typewriter, Bloch wrote fiction, non-fiction, short stories, magazine articles, movies and TV shows, and edited anthologies. Psycho II certainly wasn’t a novel celebrated by Hollywood the way that the first Psycho was. The sequel mocked splatter films, and according to Bloch, “The mere idea of criticizing their bloodbath tactics was abhorrent to them, and I was told they had no intention of doing a sequel to Psycho, let alone my story. But when advance notices of my novel generated publicity here and abroad, some resident genius suddenly had a great idea. 'Let's make Psycho II!' he cried, thus demonstrating both his creativity and his ability to count. Needless to say, I wasn't part of the time—nor was I invited to a screening.”

2. Heidi and Heidi Grows Up

Time between books: 58 years.
Why so long? Well, for one, original author Johanna Spyri died in 1901, 37 years before the sequel was written by her translator, Charles Tritten. (Spyri was Swiss.) Tritten explained that so many Heidi fans around the world wrote with questions about the fates of Heidi, Peter, and Grandfather that he felt compelled to continue their adventures. He also wrote a third story, Heidi’s Children, in 1939.

3. Dracula and Dracula the Un-dead

Time between books: 112 years.
Why so long? Because Stoker knew to leave well enough alone. It wasn’t until long after Stoker’s death—nearly a century later, in fact - that his estate allowed great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker to partner with direct-to-TV horror writer Ian Holt to write Dracula the Un-dead. The reviews are mixed, but all of them agree that if you come in expecting Stoker’s track-and-field coach great-grandnephew to have the same talent that Bram did, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re just looking for a fun, spooky read, however, feel free to dig in.

4. Peter and Wendy and Peter Pan in Scarlet

Time between books: 95 years.
Why so long? Well, in 1929, J.M. Barrie famously left the rights to his Neverland empire to Great Ormand Street Hospital, a children’s hospital in London. To commemorate the original story’s centenary in 2004, the hospital held a contest inviting authors to send in sample chapters of a new Pan book. The winner would earn the right to write the official, estate-sanctioned sequel. The winner, of course, was Geraldine McCaughrean; her Peter Pan in Scarlet was released in 2006.

5. Rosemary’s Baby and Son of Rosemary

Time between books: 30 years.
Why so long? Ira Levin didn’t really say why it took so long to write a sequel, at least not in any interviews I can find. But like Robert Bloch, I suspect that Levin had plenty of other writing itches to scratch—from novels like The Stepford Wives to musicals and plays, his pen was never idle. I’m guessing he just didn’t feel the urge to return to those characters until later in his life. Fun fact: He dedicated Son of Rosemary to Mia Farrow.

6. The Witches of Eastwick and The Widows of Eastwick

Time between books: 24 years.
Why so long? Make no bones about it—John Updike knew exactly why he wrote the sequel: “Taking those women into old age would be a way of writing about old age, my old age,” he explained to New York Magazine in 2008. He gave the women “the physical oddities I notice in myself, the arthritic pains, the perennially imperfect teeth. I’ve been spared baldness, but in a strong hotel light, you suddenly see your awful head that you never had to look at before.”

7. Catch-22 and Closing Time

Time between books: 33 years.
Why so long? Heller thought of Closing Time as “summing up.” Though he specifically said the intent was to sum up, not sing a swan song, it did end up being his last novel.

8. Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer

Time between books: 49 years.
Why so long? Farewell Summer was the last of Ray Bradbury’s novels released in his lifetime. Because this book and its predecessor were both based at least partially on Bradbury’s recollections of his childhood in Waukegan, Illinois, it’s easy to imagine that he was doing a little “summing up” of his own.

9. King Coal and The Coal War

Time between books: 59 years.
Why so long? The almost six-decade time span between books wasn’t Upton Sinclair’s fault. He submitted the sequel for publication in 1917, just three years after the publication of King Coal. Publishers found the sequel “insufficiently interesting” and declined to purchase it, proving that even celebrated authors aren’t immune from the cruel rejection of publishing houses. In 1976, nearly 60 years after the release of King Coal, the Colorado Associated University Press finally printed a few copies of the sequel.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Stephen Missal
New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]