Category Archives: Trivia

Pie Day Trivia

alex atkins bookshelf triviaMarch 14 is a fascinating number for math and science geeks. First off, it is National Pi Day, in honor of the irrational number 3.14. Second, it is Albert Einstein’s birthday (3-14-1879). And third, it is the date that Stephen Hawking died (3-14-18). Put why should pi, the ubiquitous mathematical constant, get all the attention? Princeton University, where Einstein once taught, celebrates pi day with an Einstein look-alike contest (hashtag crazy hair), pie tossing, pie eating, and other pie-related tomfoolery. Now that’s the spirit, mates! To honor the humble pie, Bookshelf presents fascinating, fun — and delicious — pie trivia:

In 1959 rock-and-roll legend Buddy Holly, along with musicians Ritchie Valens and Jiles Richardson (known as “The Big Bopper”), died in an airplane accident. The plane was named “American Pie.” The tragedy inspired Don McLean’s famous song “American Pie” released in 1971. You know the one: “The day that music died / So bye-bye, Miss America Pie / Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry…” In an interview, McLean noted “By the time he was 22 years old, [Holly] had recorded some 50 tracks, most of which he had written himself … in my view and the view of many others, [all absolute hits] … Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the template for all the rock bands that followed.”

In his 38 plays, Shakespeare killed off 74 characters. 30 of them were stabbed to death, 4 were poisoned, 4 were beheaded, and 2 were baked into a pie. In Titus Andronicus, the protagonist exacts revenge on Queen Tamora and her evil family by baking her sons in a pie and serving it to her. Bon appétit! Pass the pepper…

Speaking of meat pies, British actor and producer Peter Shaw wrote The Tale of Sweeney Todd in the late 1990s that was adapted into a screenplay of the same name by Peter Buckman in 1998. It tells the story of an evil barber that murders his clients to sell the victims’ jewelry and gives the corpses to his mistress, Mrs. Lovett, who makes them into meat pies to sell to her clients. Move over Marie Calendar…

Each year, grocery stores in America sell more than 186 million pies, generating more than $700 million

America’s favorite pie: apple pie (19%), pumpkin (13%), pecan (12%), banana cream (10%), and cherry (9%)

Favorite dessert to bring to a dinner party: Top three — pie (29%), cake (17%), and cookies (15%)

Family member that makes the best pie: mom (27%), store bought pie (26%), and grandma (17%)

Number of Americans that identify Apple pie as their favorite: 36 million

Number of men (age 35-54) that have eaten last slice of pie and denied it: 6 million

Percentage of Americans who have eaten an entire pie by themselves: 20%

Americans who believe that a slice of pie represents one of the “simple pleasures in life”: 90%

Americans who have passed off a store-bought pie as homemade: 7%

Americans who have eaten pie in bed: 33%

When is a pie not a pie? Boston Cream Pie is a cake, not a pie.

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How Famous Tech Products Got Their Names

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAround 38o, Plato wrote in book 2 of the Republic: “…the creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.” Over the centuries that sentence has morphed into the modern proverb that everyone recognizes: necessity is the mother of all invention. And in the competitive world of tech products, that proverb is something that all engineers and product designers fully embrace. But designing and building a great tech product is only half the battle — that product also requires a great name. In this endeavor, once again, necessity of a cool, catchy product name is the mother of all creation. Many times, the names were developed in-house at no cost; otherwise fees for a product name can command up to $1 million or more. Here are how some famous tech products got their names.

iPod: In 2001, Apple hired freelance copywriter Vinnie Chieco to come up with a name for their MP3 player, which they described as a hub to other gadgets. He brainstormed all kinds of ideas involving hubs, but came back to the central element in Stanley Kubrick’s dazzling, groundbreaking film, 2001: A Space Odyssey — a spaceship. In particular, Chieco recalled one of the most famous lines in the movie. In the 1968 film, as the spacecraft, Discovery One, is headed to a secret mission to Jupiter, the computer that runs the ship, the HAL 9000, begins killing off the ship’s crew. The lead astronaut, David Bowman, climbs into a space pod and leaves the ship to retrieve the body of his colleague, Frank Poole. As he returns to Discovery One, Bowman instructs HAL to open the ship’s outer door: “Open the pod bay door, HAL.” And HAL devilishly responds, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that… This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.” So we can thank Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke for coming up with the concept or space pods. Finally, Chieco added the “i” to the beginning of the name to link it phonetically with the pre-existing iMac computer.

Blackberry: In 2001, Research in Motion hired the naming company, Lexicon Branding, to develop the name for it wireless email device. Someone on the team noted that the small keys looked like seeds. So they explored names of fruits with seeds. They found that blackberry (the black describes the color of the device) tested positively among consumers.

Twitter: In 2006, cofounder Biz Stone remarked that users sending short communications (initially 140 characters) to one another was like birds chirping to one another: “Short [trivial] bursts of communication… everyone is chirping, having a good time.” That led to “twttr” that morphed to “twitter.” The word twitter was used as early as 1374 by Chaucer to refer to the sound of a bird chirping. There is another form of twitter, that emerged in 1530, that is the form of the verb twit, which means to tattle-tale; thus someone who tattle-tales, is a twitter.

Kindle: In 2005, Amazon hired Michael Cronan, a Bay Area graphic designer, to name their e-reader. His wife and partner, Karen Hibm, elaborates: “Michael came up with the name through our usual practice of exploring the depths of what the potential for the new product and product line could be and how the company wanted to present it. Jeff [Bezos, the CEO] wanted to talk about the future of reading, but in a small, not braggadocio way. We didn’t want it to be ‘techie’ or trite, and we wanted it to be memorable, and meaningful in many ways of expression, from ‘I love curling up with my Kindle to read a new book’ to ‘When I’m stuck in the airport or on line, I can Kindle my newspaper, favorite blogs or half a dozen books I’m reading.’” The word Kindle, derived from the Scandinavian word, kynda, means “to set fire to,” or derived from the Middle English word, kindel, which means “to give brith, or bring forth.” Hibma continues: “I verified that it had deep roots in literature. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others and it becomes the property of all.”

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How Rock Bands Got Their Names 1
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How Rock Bands Got Their Names 3

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The Many Wacky Phobias of Donald Trump

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAlthough the recent stories in the Wall Street Journal, Slate, In Touch, and Mother Jones about President Donald Trump’s alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels are filled with salacious details about his sex life, they also offer a fascinating glimpse into his many idiosyncrasies, particularly his many wacky phobias. Several years ago, journalist Richard Conniff wrote The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide, which looked at rich people from an animal-behavior perspective. Conniff wrote, “the rich are different than you and me… [The] rich get more candy than the rest of us. Or rather, they get more of whatever it is they happen to want, at any given moment. Whenever any animal gets more of a resource, it has a way of changing the animal’s behavior.” Moreover, because they live a very opulent and insulated life, often surrounded by loyal and enabling family members, sycophants, and subservient staff, the idiosyncratic behaviors and beliefs of the rich become amplified and deeply ingrained — to the extent that to any outsider these behaviors and beliefs seem, well, simply batshit crazy.

Take some of Tump’s phobias. Based on the news coverage from the past year, and from the recent Stormygate coverage, one has learned that Trump has several wacky phobias. First of all, Trump is a self-professed germaphobe. In several interviews, he has expressed the belief that shaking hands in a “barbaric practice” because of the spread of germs and “all sorts of things.” In Trump’s Art of the Comeback he wrote: “One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands, and the more successful and famous one becomes the worse this terrible custom seems to get. I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.” (Interestingly, although Trump has germophobia, he does not have corresponding cypridophobia: the fear of sexually transmitted diseases. According to the Daniels’ interview published by In Touch, Trump and Daniels did not use protection when they engaged in sex. Go figure.) However, it is possible that Trump does have mysophobia, which is a morbid, overpowering fear of contamination.

The In Touch interview, conducted in 2011, also revealed that Trump has selachophobia (or galeophobia): fear of sharks. Daniels recounts: “Trump] was watching Shark Week and he was watching a special about the U.S.S. something and it sank and it was like the worst shark attack in history. He is obsessed with sharks. Terrified of sharks. He was like, ‘I donate to all these charities and I would never donate to any charity that helps sharks. I hope all the sharks die.’ He was like riveted. He was like obsessed. It’s so strange, I know.”

Trump also has phalacrophobia (or peladophobia): the fear of going bald. Dr. Ronny Jackson, Trump’s White House physician, during the president’s routine annual physical, noted that Trump took Propecia to treat male-pattern baldness. In the In Touch interview, Daniels shared: “I asked him about his hair. I was like, ‘Dude, what’s up with that?’ and he laughed and he said, ‘You know, everybody wants to give me a makeover and I’ve been offered all this money and all these free treatments.’ And I was like, ‘What is the deal? Don’t you want to upgrade that? Come on, man.’ He said that he thought that if he cut his hair or changed it, that he would lose his power and his wealth. And I laughed hysterically at him.” Perhaps Trump, like Samson from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, was visited by an angel and promised him special powers as long as he didn’t cut his hair. It’s so strange, I know.

Michael Wolff’s fascinating book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, reveals that Trump has toxophobia: fear of being poisoned. Trump’s toxophobia is one of the reasons he prefers eating fast-food from McDonald’s and KFC. Wolff writes: “[Trump] had a longtime fear of being poisoned, one reason why he liked to eat at McDonald’s — nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely remade.” In an interview with CNN, Trump stated, “I’m a very clean person. I like cleanliness, and I think you’re better off going there [McDonald’s] than maybe someplace that you have no idea where the food’s coming from. It’s a certain standard.”

We close with a quote from Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, who often muttered this phrase to get through each day at work: “You can’t make this shit up.”

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For further reading: The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide by Richard Coniff
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy Lee, et al

The World Was Built to Develop Character

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsLife is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.

Henry Ford (1863-1947), American industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company. Many people mistakenly believe that Ford invented the automobile or that he invented the assembly line. Who invented the automobile does not have an easy answer — there were several inventors who made important contributions: Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot developed the first steam engine (1769) and Robert Anderson developed the first electric carriage (1832). But it was Karl Benz who developed the first gasoline automobile powered by an internal combustion engine in 1885. Ford is credited as “inventor” of the car simply because the Ford Model T revolutionized transportation in America in the early 1900s. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. They were cheap — $360 to $825 — and easy to drive.

The assembly line, on the other hand, was invented by Ransom Olds who founded the Olds Gasoline Engine Works in 1895. In order to build the Curved Dash Oldsmobile car quickly and inexpensively, Olds had workers assigned to fixed workstations, using interchangeable parts in repetitive operations, and vendors were set up to deliver the parts to each station. The reason that Ford is given credited for the assembly line, is that he added one important element: a conveyor: by playing the cars on a conveyor, moving from station to station, Ford created the first moving assembly line.

Ironically, when you think of assembly lines, you think of mass production and cheap labor. But, Ford had it the other way around. He introduced the concept of Fordism: mass production of inexpensive goods by workers who were paid high wages. Talk about anachronisms…

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For further reading: The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts
They Made America by Harold Evans

Famous Actors Who Started Out in Commercials

alex atkins bookshelf moviesAll famous highly-paid actors had to begin somewhere — including in the humble world of commercials, hawking products that they probably wouldn’t want to be promoting today. But — hey — you have to start somewhere. Recall what Constantin Stanislavski, one of the most influential theatre directors and father of the Stanislavski method (known as method acting), declared to his acting students: “there are no small parts, only small actors.” Of course, many stars would never want to admit to doing commercials because they have reached such lofty heights; ahem, commercial work is beneath them. For example, before he was cooking blue meth in an RV, Bryan Cranston was smearing Preparation H on his bum. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, possesses a certain amount of humility. During her acceptance speech for Best Actress SAG award, Lawrence graciously thanked MTV for helping her get her start in showbiz with a promo for My Super Sweet 16, a reality TV series about privileged (read: spoiled) teenagers. Back then she earned a pittance; today she commands $10 million plus per film. That’s the meteoric trajectory of showbiz… Inspired by her proud admission, here is a list of famous actors, and the products they hawked, long before they became famous.

Ben Affleck: Burger King

Brad Pitt: Pringles

Bruce Willis: Seagram’s Wine Coolers

Bryan Cranston: Preparation H

Dakota Fannin: Tide

Drew Barrymore: Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dustin Hoffman: Volkswagon

Elijah Wood: Pizza Hut

Elisabeth Moss: Excedrin

Evangeline Lilly: Canadian singles phone chat lines

Jodie Foster: Coppertone

Jason Bateman: Golden Grahams cereal

John Travolta: Lifebuoy soap, Band-Aid

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Pop Tarts

Keanu Reeves: Corn Flakes, Coca-Cola

Kirsten Dunst: Baby Dolly Surprise

Kristen Stewart: Porsche

Leonardo DiCaprio: Bubble Yum

Lindsay Lohan: Jell-O

Matt LeBlanc: Heinz ketchup

Meg Ryan: Aim toothpaste, Burger King

Mila Kunis: Lisa Frank

Morgan Freeman: Listerine

Naomi Watts: Tampax

Paul Rudd: Super Nintendo

Tina Fey: Mutual Savings Bank

Tobey Maguire: Doritos

Tom Selleck: Close Up toothpaste; Pepsi

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For further reading: The Super Book of Useless Information by Don Voorhees

Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr.

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsThere are some notable people from history, who were larger than life — and due to their prolific writings and speeches, over the decades have become magnets for quotations. Martin Luther King, Jr., legendary civil rights activist and recipient of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, is one of those individuals, alongside such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Jefferson. King’s passionate and eloquent “I Have A Dream” speech, delivered to a crowd of more than 250,000 civil rights supporters gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963, is perhaps one of the most well-known speeches in American history. It is important for several reasons: it marks the defining moment of the civil rights movement in America and it considered King’s oratory magnum opus — considered by many scholars to be one of the best speeches of the 20th century. The original typewritten speech, easily worth more than $3 million, is owned by George Raveling who was volunteering as a security guard on the day that King delivered the speech. After King waved goodbye to the audience he handed it to Raveling.

There are many wonderful quotable lines from the speech itself, such as: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” He wrote those words, and just as important, he said those very same words. But as a quotation magnet, there are a number of quotes that have been attributed to King that he never said, and most likely, never said. Scholars call these types of quotes apocryphal, thus an apocryphal quotation is purported to be true by way of repeated tellings but has never been verified by the person’s corpus or recordings and thus is more likely not be true. But of course, with the Internet, apocryphal quotes spread like wild fire. Here are some of the quotes mistakenly attributed to Martin Luther King:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
This sentence was written by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and Transcendalist; it is found in Ten Sermons of Religion, published in 1853.

Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.
This was written by another Martin Luther, specifically Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation.

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
This was written by the aforementioned Martin Luther.

Justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
This line is from the Bible, Amos 5:24.

Peace and justice are goals for man.
This was written by another famous quote magnet, Mahatma Gandhi.

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
The first sentence was written by Jessica Dovey, a University of Pennsylvania graduate teaching English in Japan, on her Facebook page. She added the next two sentences that were written by King (from Strength to Love); however, she attributed the entire quotation to King.

Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.
(Written by a Usenet user on January 15, 2006)

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Read related post: Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
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The Gettysburg Address

The Two Most Important Days of Your Life

For further reading: Hemingway Didn’t Say That by Garson O’Toole,_Jr.

The Most Expensive Autograph in the World

alex atkins bookshelf triviaImagine something a person can do in less than five seconds that could be worth millions of dollars years later. If you are the right person, writing your signature on the right piece of paper or item, it is possible. It is that serendipitous combination — the more notable the person and the more rarer the item — that makes some autographs the most valuable, and hence most sought after by a philographist. As famous autograph collector, Thomas Madison noted, “Between the present and the past there exists no more intimate personal connection than an autograph. It is the living symbol of its author.” The holy grail, that is, the most elusive and most expensive autograph in the world, is Acts of Congress, a personal copy of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the First Congress owned and signed by George Washington, the first president of the United States. In 2012, the book was sold at auction fetching $9.8 million. Here are the five most valuable autographs in the world:

1. George Washington (signature on Acts of Congress title page): $9.8 million

2. Abraham Lincoln (signature on Emancipation Proclamation): $3.7 million

3. John Lennon (signature on Double Fantasy album owned by Mark Chapman, who murdered Lennon): $525,000

4. Babe Ruth (signature on a baseball from 1927): $388,375

5. Jimi Hendrix (signature on a contract from October 15, 1965): $200,000

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