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25 Movie Cameos by the Authors of the Original Books

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Many of you probably know that our friend John Green has a movie coming out in a few weeks. But when The Fault in Our Stars hits theaters, don't expect to see John up there on the silver screen. Though he filmed a cameo ("Girl's Father"), it was ultimately cut. "I was hugely relieved when I got the call when they had cut the scene," he told Vulture. "I was terrible. Terrible."

Not all author cameos are destined for the cutting room floor, though. Keep your eyes peeled for these sneaky appearances the next time you’re enjoying a movie based on a book.

1. Kathryn Stockett // The Help

The author of The Help has a bouffanted cameo as part of a scene involving the Junior League. Her mother, sister, and some friends also appear.

2. Stephenie Meyer // Twilight

It’s a very subtle cameo. See if your eagle eyes can spot it.

3. Michael Morpurgo // War Horse

Morpurgo and his wife, Clare, both filmed a cameo for the movie. This isn’t the first time Morpurgo has popped up for a bit part in War Horse, though. He’s also made small appearances when the play adaptations of his books have been performed in London and New York.

4. Stephen King // Pet Sematary 

The author cameos in many of his movies—Thinner, Rose Red, The Storm of the Century, The Stand, The Shining, The Langoliers and Sleepwalker, just to name a few. But I like the one in Pet Sematary, above.

5. Louis Sachar // Holes

The famous children’s and YA author plays a character named Mr. Collingwood in a flashback scene. See him at 0:33. 

6. Sara Gruen // Water for Elephants.

In a scene that will make Edward Cullen fans green with envy, Robert Pattinson brushes by an “astonished woman” watching Rosie the elephant steal produce. That woman is Gruen. Many of her family members also appear in the scene.

7. S.E. Hinton // The Outsiders

Hinton—whose real name is Susan Eloise—appears as the nurse in Dally’s hospital room. Check out her extremely brief appearance at the beginning the clip above.

8. John Irving // The World According to Garp

Anyone familiar with Irving’s love of wrestling won’t be surprised that he chose to appear as a wrestling referee in the movie adaptation of The World According to Garp, a role that required a fair amount of scuttling around on the floor.

9. Peter Benchley // Jaws

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The author who made millions of people question their summer vacation plans plays a reporter in a brief scene in the 1975 film adaptation, which Benchley co-wrote.

10. William Peter Blatty // The Exorcist

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Early in the movie, before the pea soup really hits the fan, Reagan’s actress mother is working on a movie. Blatty plays the producer of the film in a short on-set scene, asking if one of the scenes is really necessary. It's a case of art imitating life, because Blatty had many similar disputes with The Exorcist director William Friedkin.

11. John le Carré // Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy 

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He plays a guest at the MI6 Christmas party. The author can be found standing next to a spy dressed like Lenin.

12. V.C. Andrews // Flowers in the Attic 

Andrews died shortly after filming her very brief cameo, missing the movie’s 1987 premiere.

13. Fannie Flagg // Fried Green Tomatoes 

Flagg plays the workshop leader of a women’s seminar that Evelyn attends (before she's empowered by Towanda, of course).

14. Sapphire // Precious 

You can spot the mono-named author as a woman at a day care center near the end of the movie.

15. Hunter S. Thompson // Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 

Johnny Depp looks at "himself"—the real Hunter S. Thompson—at 0:25.

16. Kurt Vonnegut // Mother Night 

At 1:17 in the clip above, Vonnegut appears as one of the many people passing Campbell on the sidewalk.

17. Jennifer Weiner // In Her Shoes 

She plays "Smiling woman in Italian market." 

18. Jean Shepherd // A Christmas Story 


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The writer has a memorable scene as the man who sends Ralphie and his brother to the end of the Santa line.

19. Emily Giffin // Something Borrowed

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In a nod to her chick-lit career, Giffin appears in a scene where she's reading a book on a park bench. The novel just happens to be Something Blue, the sequel to Something Borrowed.

20. Jacqueline Susann // Valley of the Dolls 

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Despite hating the movie made from her best-selling book, Susann made a cameo as a reporter.

21. Jonathan S. Foer // Everything is Illuminated 

There's scene where movie Jonathan (Elijah Wood) is visiting his grandfather's grave. In the background, a groundskeeper is blowing leaves. The man keeping the cemetery tidy is the real Jonathan S. Foer.

22. Amy Tan // The Joy Luck Club

She plays a guest at a house party.

23. Irvine Welsh // Trainspotting 

Unlike most of these cameos, Welsh actually has an extended part. He plays Mikey Forrester, the dealer who supplies the opium suppositories that result in one of the most, uh, memorable bathroom scenes in the history of cinema. 

24. Charles Bukowski // Barfly

When the camera lingers a beat or two too long on an older gentleman enjoying a beer, you'll know you've spotted Bukowski.

25. James Dickey // Sheriff Bullard in Deliverance

 

It seems that the author's presence on the set was distracting to the actors, so they asked director John Boorman to ask Dickey to leave. To soften the blow a little, Boorman offered Dickey the part of the sheriff. Though Dickey originally declined ("I ain't coming back; get yourself another boy"), he eventually returned to give this impressive performance.

A much shorter version of this post appeared in 2012.

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technology
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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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Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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