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What 10 More Books Were Almost Called

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More goes in to settling on a title for a book than you might think. Even if you haven't read them, the names of these 10 classic tales are instantly recognizable. If the authors hadn't changed their minds, however, these novels may not have received the attention they deserved. (And check out 10 more here.)

1. Valley of the Dolls

Would you have read a book called They Don't Build Statues to Businessmen? Me neither. It's a good thing Jacqueline Susann chose a snappier title.

2. Lolita

Thanks to Nabokov, the word “lolita” has entered common vernacular—but that wouldn’t have happened had he named his book Kingdom By the Sea, as he wrote to a friend. The name was an homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee,” because in the novel, Humbert nicknamed his first teenage love after Poe's heroine. The poem goes, “It was many and many a year ago / In a kingdom by the sea, / That a maiden there lived whom you may know / By the name of Annabel Lee.”

3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

J.K. Rowling says that her working title for the fourth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament, leaked before the book was ready. She also kicked around Harry Potter and the Triwizard Tournament, but decided on Goblet of Fire because, she said, “it’s got that kind of ‘cup of destiny’ feel about it.”

4. Goodnight Moon

It’s a subtle difference, but Margaret Wise’s classic board book was originally called Goodnight Room. Goodnight Moon feels much more like a child getting ready to drift off into dreamland, doesn’t it?

5. James and the Giant Peach

Had Roald Dahl stuck with his original plan, the tome would have been titled James and the Giant Cherry instead. A peach is “prettier, bigger and squishier,” Dahl decided.

6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar


Believing that a caterpillar was more appealing than a worm, Eric Carle’s editor, Ann Benaduce, suggested that he make a slight change to the book. It worked out well—Carle didn’t have a clear ending in mind for A Week With Willie Worm, and switching allowed the story to arrive at the natural conclusion of his titular caterpillar transforming into a butterfly.

7. The Fountainhead

The first title of this novel by Ayn Rand was Second-Hand Lives, which explains her words on the dedication page of the manuscript: “To Frank O’Connor, who is less guilty of secondhandedness than anyone I have ever met.”

8. Lord of the Flies

William Golding’s disturbing dystopian tale about murderous children stranded on an island was first titled Strangers From Within. That may have had something to do with why it was rejected six times.

9. Of Mice and Men

Steinbeck’s original title, Something That Happened, was supposed to show that, for better or worse, sometimes things happen, and that’s just how life is.

10. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Carson McCullers got straight to the point with the working title of her debut novel, simply calling it The Mute. She changed it at the suggestion of Houghton Mifflin’s sales manager.

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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]