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7 Books That Will (Probably) Never Be Printed Again

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In an age where readers can get their book fix via downloads or overnight shipping, it can be easy to overlook the fact that not everything is available on demand. Thousands of titles remain off-limits in both digital and analog form for a variety of reasons—some controversial, others due to the author's wishes. Take a look at seven titles you’re unlikely to find on shelves anytime soon.

1. FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH // CAMERON CROWE (1981)

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Screenwriter and director Crowe (Say Anything, Almost Famous) began contributing to Rolling Stone and other music publications when he was still a teenager. At the age of 22, he convinced Clairemont High School in San Diego to let him enroll as a student so he could chronicle the experience of a senior class. Fast Times, which changed his classmates' names to maintain a semblance of privacy, was adapted into the 1982 film starring Sean Penn.

Despite the name recognition of both the title and its author, Crowe has resisted any attempt to put it back in print. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2011, Crowe said that he “likes that there’s one thing that’s not readily available … I like it too much as a kind of bootleg.”

2. RAGE // STEPHEN KING (1977)

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In the late 1970s, horror novelist Stephen King—who was often chastised for being too prolific—decided to adopt a pseudonym in order to release more of his material without the accompanying criticism. Writing as Richard Bachman, he published seven books. One, Rage, was written while King was in his late teens and concerned a high school student who kills his teacher and takes his algebra class hostage. By 1997, at least three adolescents who had brought weapons to school and killed or injured classmates had admitted to reading the book or had it found in their possession; one said he modeled his behavior directly after the book’s lead character.

A distraught King convinced his publisher that the book was a “possible accelerant” and had no place on shelves. They complied; King has said that “I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.”

3. PROMISE ME TOMORROW // NORA ROBERTS (1984)

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While Roberts might not be as celebrated as King, her success in the romance genre is impressive by any measure. As of 2011, she had over 400 million books in print. The lone exception: Promise Me Tomorrow, a title she wrote early on in her career. Though Roberts had already finished well over 20 books by the time Promise Me Tomorrow was released, it doesn’t appear she’s eager for people to revisit it. In 2009, Roberts told The New Yorker that it was full of clichés and committed the most egregious of romance-novel sins: an unhappy ending.  

4. INVASION OF THE SPACE INVADERS // MARTIN AMIS (1982)

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British novelist Martin Amis took a jarring detour in 1982 when he authored this slightly tongue-in-cheek “guide” to the arcade games of the era, which was part gamer’s travelogue and part critical essay of the industry. The unlikely pairing of author and subject was enough to entice Steven Spielberg to write the introduction, but not enough for Amis to ever consider revisiting it: When a writer for The Guardian suggested it should resurface, Amis stared at him and offered no response at all.

5. SEX /// MADONNA (1992)

By the time Madonna committed to shooting a coffee table photography book of herself and models (including Vanilla Ice) in various compromising positions, the world had gotten fairly used to her provocative behavior. Nonetheless, when Warner Books released Sex in 1992, it promptly sold through half of its million-copy print run inside of a week. Intended as a limited-availability collector’s item, the publisher has never expressed interest in returning to it; BookFinder, which releases an annual list of the most sought-after out-of-print titles, regularly places the 132-page book at or near the top of the heap.  

6. ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITTANICA (1768-2012)

The venerable reference volume taxed its last particle-board bookshelf in 2012, when Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Inc. decided to cease publication of its analog information library. At 129 pounds, the $1395 collection sold just 8000 copies, a far cry from the 120,000 sets the company moved in 1990. The advent of online resources like Wikipedia and a prohibitive cost led Brittanica to focus on online strategies. A total of 15 volumes were released through 2010.

7. THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS // BARBARA NEWHALL FOLLETT (1927)

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Book critic Wilson Follett’s love of words may have been hereditary: His daughter, Barbara, was consumed with them early on, pecking away at a novel at the age of eight. When she was 12, her father assisted her in completing The House Without Windows, a novel about a girl who disappears into the woods and finds companionship with animals. Follett passed the manuscript on to his contacts at Knopf, who published it to widespread acclaim in 1927.

In 1939, the former child prodigy was unhappily married. She left her home with a small amount of money and disappeared, never to be seen again. According to a relative who maintains a web presence for her work, Knopf has not acknowledged who might hold the copyright to the book. It remains available only via secondhand sellers.

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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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© Nintendo
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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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