Category Archives: Trivia

What Are the Most Dangerous Jobs in the World?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureMost people enjoy their work, despite the fact that there are always some complaints — however minor or significant –regarding the workplace. But let’s look at the bright side — at least you don’t have to worry about risking your life to do your job. Or expressed another way: at least your job will not kill you.

Take a look at the list of the most dangerous jobs in the world. It’s sobering, isn’t it? Imagine leaving for work each day and having to ponder that this might be the last day of your life. And even worse — the salaries that you would earn in these jobs do not even factor in the level of danger that you would be exposed to on a daily basis. For example, in two most dangerous industries, logging and fishing, workers only earn an average salary of $32,870 and $25,590, respectively. And note, that to live comfortably in America, you need to earn around $39,000 to $50,000 (depending on what city you live in, and excluding the outliers) according to a recent cost-of-living survey conducted by GoBankingRates. Certainly, it prompts the question: is it really worth it to do this job? For many workers, due to a variety of circumstances, a job in a safer industry is not necessarily a viable option. So the next time you open your front door (made of wood) and step into your house (framed with lumber) or have fish for dinner, think for a moment of the brave souls who risked their lives to provide those elements of modern life. Or the next time you get frustrated at work for some minor annoyance, consider that you don’t have to carry a load of rivets on a narrow iron girder 840 feet above the city streets (recall the famous “Lunch atop a Skyscraper from the 1930s).

Here is the list of the most dangerous jobs in the world, the salaries, and the number of fatalities per 100 workers.

Logging Worker
Average annual salary: $32,870
Death per 100 workers: 127.8
Fast fact: Housing boom has forced industry to hire more inexperienced workers who are prone to more accidents

Average annual salary: $25,590
Death per 100 workers: 117
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to vessel disasters or falling overboard

Aircraft Pilots
Average annual salary: $76,050
Death per 100 workers: 53.4
Fast fact: Private planes have highest mortality rates because the planes are not well-maintained

Average annual salary: $34,220
Death per 100 workers: 40.5
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to falls

Mining Machine Operators
Average annual salary: $37,230 to $89,440
Death per 100 workers: 37
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to cave-ins, flooding, elevator problems, and lung and respiratory disease

Garbage Collectors
Average annual salary: $34,220
Death per 100 workers: 27.1
Fast fact: Most fatalities are due to traffic or machine accidents

Power-line Workers
Average annual salary: $62,300
Death per 100 workers: 23
Fast fact: Most deaths are due to exposure to harmful substances in environment

Truck Drivers
Average annual salary: $37,930
Death per 100 workers: 22.1
Fast fact: Drivers typically drive for 11 hours at a stretch

Agricultural Workers
Average annual salary: $73,700
Death per 100 workers: 21.3
Fast fact: 23% of injuries are due to machinery

Construction Workers
Average annual salary: $34,500
Death per 100 workers: 17.4
Fast fact: Most fatalities are due to falls

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Most Overdue Library Book of All Time

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe public library system depends on the honesty of its patrons. It offers a veritable world of books for free (paid for by your tax dollars, of course); however, if you check out a book, you should care for it (as opposed to using it as a coaster for your Starbucks iced vanilla latte) and return it before the due date. But we’re human — sometimes, a library book is temporarily misplaced and forgotten; days or weeks later it is discovered. Sure it’s embarrassing to face a scowling librarian as you humbly pay the overdue fines. But it feels good to do the right thing, right?

But what if instead of day or weeks, it was years — or, imagine — centuries. Yes, centuries. Fear not, there is an individual who is the poster boy of the most overdue library book of all time. That would be Colonel Robert Walpole (1650-1700), an English Whig politician, who borrowed a biography of the Archbishop of Bremen from the library of Sidney Sussex College at the University of Cambridge in 1668. It must have been a damned good read, because Walpole never bothered to return it. The book was finally returned to the library in 1956 — 288 years later! — after a professor, Sir John Plumb, found the book in the library of Houghton Hall, a country house built for Walpole between 1722 and 1735. Fortunately, Plumb was not fined for his good deed. Today, the fine for overdue books at many libraries is 10 cents a day; at that rate Plumb would have had to pay overdue fees of $10,512!

Across the pond, in second place, is George Washington (1732-1799), Founding Father and America’s first president, who borrowed The Law of Nations by Joseph Chitty from the New York Society Library in 1789. Washington must have loved Chitty’s book. It was finally discovered at Washington’s home in Virginia in 2010 and returned to the library — 221 years later! Head librarian, Mark Bartlett, noted that at current rate of overdue fees, Washington would have had to pay $300,000! He would have to sell a lot of tobacco to pay that bill…

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What are the Words and Definitions of 2017 Spelling Bee?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsOn June 1, 2017, Ananya Vinay, a 12-year-old from Fresno, California, won the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee in a… ahem.. spellbinding duel of words, with a very worthy opponent, Rohan Rajeev, a 14-year-old from Edmond, Oklahoma. The two teens tackled a list of about 40 of the most challenging and obscure words to reach the word that caused Rajeev to stumble: “marram.” In order to win, Vinay had to correctly spell the last few words. The winning word, was “marocain,” a dress fabric made from rayon or silk. For her spelling brilliance, Vinay won $40,000 in cash and prizes, and of course, bragging rights to being the best speller in America — and eschewing annoying spellcheckers on all of her favorite apps.

A review of the words used in the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee shows that the judges don’t mess around when it comes to finding truly difficult and obscure words. In fact, most of them fall into the category of “I didn’t even know that there was a word for that!” A review of the winning words form the inaugural Spelling Bee in 1925 to now shows a steady evolution from simple words, like “albumen” or “fracas,” to amazingly difficult words like “feuilleton” and “scherenschnitte.” So why have the words become so difficult? Since ESPN started broadcasting the Spelling Bee 24 years ago, the competition has attracted dramatically more children — more than 11 million entered the competition in 2017! And these are children with truly amazing spelling skills. Valeria Miller, a spokesperson for the event, adds, “The words are more difficult now because the skills of the students also have expanded. These are the best of the best spellers, and the words they get in the national finals should be the greatest challenge.” 

Here is a list of all the difficult words of the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee, including their definitions:

marocain: a dress fabric made of rayon or silk

gifblaar: a poisonous perennial shrub of southern Africa

marram: a type of beach grass

Hypapante: a feast celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorating the presentation of Jesus and his meeting Anna and Simeon in the temple; the purification of the Virgin Mary

poulaine: the long pointed toe of a crakow, a European boot, shoe, or slipper worn during the 14th-15th century

​wayzgoose: a printers’ annual outing or entertainment

​cheiropompholyx: a type of skin disease

​potichimanie: the art of imitating painted porcelain ware

Tchefuncte: relating to an ancient culture of Louisiana

gesith: a wellborn companion or attendant

​Naassene: a Gnostic sect which worships the serpent

​cecidomyia: a very large genus of gall-forming midges (tiny flies)

​emphyteusis: A civil law contract by which a land estate is leased to a tenant, either in perpetuity or for a long term, upon the reservation of an annual rent, and based on the condition that the lessee should improve the property, by building, cultivating, etc.; the lessee also retains the right to end the lease or pass it on to his or her heirs

Boyg: a pervasive problem, obstacle, or enemy

rastacouère: a foreign parvenu, a person that has suddenly or recently come into wealth or power and has not yet gained the dignity, respect, or manner associated with it

​zeaxanthin: a yellow crystalline carotenoid alcohol that occurs especially in fruits and vegetables and egg yolks

Brabancon: a Belgian breed of large, powerful draft horses

sceloporus: any of a genus of small iguanid lizards

durchkomponiert: having an individual musical setting

gwyniad: a fish related to the lake whitefish

Juglar: a business cycle of approximately nine years

berghaan: a short-tailed African eagle

koleroga: disease of an areca palm caused by a fungus

pykrete: a frozen mix of water and wood pulp

chitarrino: a small guitar

staatenbund: a type of league of states

epirrhema: an address usually about public affairs

​heiligenschein: a bright light around shadow of person’s head

voussoir: a tapering piece forming an arch

konditorei: a shop selling confectionery

barasingha: a large yellowish brown deer

​aracari: a colored tropical American toucan

psophometer: a device for measuring the volume of noise

tasajillo: an arborescent prickly pear

konkhiki: the overseer of a Hawaiian land division

cavaquinho: a Brazilian stringed musical instrument

siddur: a Jewish prayer book

gargouillade: a forward leap in ballet

Bandkeramik: a word for European Neolithic pottery

cuivre: overblown; used as a direction in music

Egeria: a female adviser or companion

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James Joyce’s Ulysses Written in Code?

alex atkins bookshelf booksJames Joyce’s Ulysses, published in 1922, is considered one of the finest works of modernist fiction of the 20th century; however it was considered extremely controversial. Set aside for a moment that it was considered obscene due do its fornication and masturbation sex scenes, it was also considered inscrutable for its challenging stream-of-consciousness narrative style, obscure allusions, wordplay, foreign phrases, and minimal punctuation. In fact, British war censors considered Joyce’s novel so enigmatic (in their words, “unreadable, unquotable, and unreviewable”) that they believed it was actually written in spy code. I guess you can say that Joyce was the first human “enigma machine.”

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For further reading: The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham

Andy Warhol was a Hoarder

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAndy Warhol (1928-1987) who began his career as a commercial illustrator became one of the most recognized artists of the 20th century. Beginning in the 1960s, Warhol established himself as a leader of the pop art movement; he is best known for his paintings of the Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles. Warhol also cultivated an entourage of underground celebrities that collaborated on art films and socialized at some of New York’s most notable nightclubs, like the infamous Studio 54. It is within this electric and eclectic milieu of celebrity, art, cinema, music, and partying, that Warhol gave us his most memorable quote: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Although Warhol was always in the spotlight for so many things as previously mentioned, there is one aspect of his life that hid in the shadows: Warhol was a hoarder. The Andy Warhol Museum, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, houses important Warhol art in addition to all the crap he collected over several decades — including 610 Time Capsules, containing more than 300,000 items contained in  569 cardboard boxes, 40 filing cabinets, and one large trunk. The museum politely refers to this as Warhol’s “possession obsession.” Claudia Kalb, author of Andy Warhol was a Hoarder, elaborate: “[Warhol] was an accumulator of epic proportions. The man loved to shop, and he did whenever and wherever he could — five-and-dime stores, antique stores, high-end galleries… the artist crammed his Manhattan home with so much stuff — pearl necklaces, Miss Piggy memorabilia, Bakelite bracelets, Lichenstein drawings — that ‘you had to climb over things’ to get around, one visitor told New York magazine after his death… By his own admission, the artist had trouble getting rid of anything… [He stashed] everyday items that he swept off his desk: lunch receipts, ticket stubs, doctors’ bills, letter, postage stamps.” Warhol would have his assistants fill up cardboard boxes and once they were filled they were shipped off to storage.”

Kalb continues: “A tireless shopper, Warhol hit every kind of marketplace — flea markets, antique dealers, galleries, Saks Fifth Avenue. One of his favorite targets was Lamston’s, the old Manhattan variety store, where he’d buy a 30-cent shopping bag and see how much he could cram in. At home, he’d lay out the contents on his bed and rub the prices off with Comet. ‘Then, the minute you’ve put all the stuff away,’ he wrote, ‘you want to go shopping again.” Said, like a true, compulsive hoarder.

“So why did Warhol become a hoarder?” you ask. Excellent question. Warhol had a difficult childhood, straight out of a Dickens novel. His family grew up poor, struggling through the Depression. On top of that, Warhol lost his father, a coalminer, when he was only 13 years old. Warhol was a sickly child (he was diagnosed with Sydenham’s chorea, a nervous system disease), shy, and socially isolated. One of his favorite pastimes was to lose himself in movies, comic books, drawing, and celebrity magazines. He enjoyed making scrapbooks out of newspaper and magazine clippings of celebrities. He picked this up from his mother who was artistic — she was a talented illustrator and made handicrafts out of crete paper and tin cans. (She passed away in 1972, when Warhol was 44). Warhol’s hoarding began when he was in his early 20s. Like most hoarders, Warhol developed strong emotional attachment to things and used this as a way to relieve the anxiety he was experiencing in his life — a coping mechanism that worked well for him as a child, trying to deal with the trauma of his sickness, isolation, and poverty. But of course, the paradox of hoarding is that although accumulating things relieves anxiety, it also produces anxiety. As Gregory Jantz notes in his article “The Psychology Behind Hoarding” for Psychology Today: “The more hoarders accumulate, the more insulated they feel from the world and its dangers. Of course, the more they accumulate, the more isolated they become from the world, including family and friends. Even the thought of discarding or cleaning out hoarded items produces extreme feelings of panic and discomfort.”

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For further reading: Andy Warhol was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities by Claudia Kalb

How Did O. Henry Get His Pen Name?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaAmerican short story writer O. Henry was born William Sidney Porter (1862-1910). Incidentally, in 1898, Porter changed the spelling of his middle name from Sidney to Sydney. His short stories feature colorful characters, skillful unfolding of plot, realistic and witty dialogue, and often with a distinctive surprise plot twist ending (often referred to as the “O. Henry twist”). He was a prolific writer, having written more than 600 short stories, published in 13 separate collections of short stories. In the early 1900s, Porter was one of the most widely read and admired storytellers in the country. Two of his best-known short stories are the “The Last Leaf” and the holiday classic “The Gift of the Magi.”

Many people often wonder how Porter came up with the pen name “O. Henry” that seems to have no connection with his birth name, his place of birth (Greensboro, North Carolina), or his professions (pharmacist, bank teller, bookkeeper, and journalist). During his writing career, Porter used many pen names, including James L. Bliss, T.B. Down, Howard Clark, Olivier Henry, O. Henry, and S.H. Peters. Porter used the pseudonym for the first time in December 1899 for the short story entitled “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking.” There are several accounts on the internet that attribute the pen name to individuals he met during his prison term in the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. (He was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling funds from a bank where he worked as a bank teller and bookkeeper; he served only three, being released early for good behavior — and writing really great short stories). Another common fallacy is that he was named after a candy bar (read below). Yet another story claims that he derived the pen name from the name of a girlfriend’s cat. There is no evidence for any of these explanations.

In an interview with The New York Times in 1909 ( entitled “O. Henry on Himself, Life, and Other Things”), Porter gave this definitive account:
It was during these New Orleans days that I adopted my pen name of O. Henry. I said to a friend: “I’m going to send out some stuff. I don’t know if it amounts to much, so I want to get a literary alias. Help me pick out a good one.” He suggested that we get a newspaper and pick a name from the first list of notables that we found in it. In the society columns we found the account of a fashionable ball. “Here we have our notables,” said he. We looked down the list and my eye lighted on the name Henry, “That’ll do for a last name,” said I. “Now for a first name. I want something short. None of your three-syllable names for me.” “Why don’t you use a plain initial letter, then?” asked my friend. “Good,” said I, “O is about the easiest letter written, and O it is.”…. “A newspaper once wrote and asked me what the O stands for. I replied, ‘O stands for Olivier, the French for Oliver.’ And several of my stories accordingly appeared in that paper under the name Olivier Henry.”

Despite some accounts on the internet, O. Henry was not named after the Oh Henry! candy bar introduced by the Williamson Candy Company of Chicago in 1920. Nor was the Oh Henry! candy bar named after the author. According to Nestle, this is the official story of the naming of the chocolate candy bar: “Way back when, there was a little candy shop owned by George Williamson. A young fellow by the name of Henry who visited this shop on a regular basis became friendly with the young girls working there. They were soon asking favors of him, clamoring Oh Henry, will you do this?, and Oh Henry, will you do that? So often did Mr. Williamson hear the girls beseeching poor young Henry for help, that when he needed a name for a new candy bar, he called it OH HENRY! and filed a trademark application the following year.” Now that would have made a wonderful O. Henry short story, don’t you think?

The O. Henry Award, established in 1918, is an annual American award given to short stories of exceptional merit was named after the author. The award, presented by the Society of Arts and Sciences, promotes the art of the short story. His love of language and wordplay was the inspiration for the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships established in 1978 that celebrates the often-maligned but wickedly funny pun. Punsters from around the globe travel to the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas each May to compete in the Punniest of Show, PunSlingers, and Most Viable Punster competitions.

One of the most common questions that librarians and booksellers hear is: “where can I find O. Henry? Is it organized under O or H?” The proper alphabetization of O. Henry is under “H” not “O” — remember the name is not spelled “O’Henry” but rather “O. Henry” as in Olivier Henry. Still, many bookstores stock O. Henry’s books in the “O” section of fiction. Oh Henry!

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How Do We Spend Our Time During a Lifetime?

alex atkins bookshelf triviaTo paraphrase John Lennon’s famous lyric from “Beautiful Boy”: Life is what happens to you while you are busy doing routine or mundane tasks. Considering that the average lifespan of a person is 78 years, ever wonder how many of those years are devoted to real living — pursuing your dreams? Using statistics from the World Bank and the Bureau of Statistics, the clever folks at Daily Infographic have created an infographic showing us exactly how we spend our time during a lifetime — and it isn’t pretty. One could argue that most of our time is squandered — we spend most of our time sleeping (about one third of one’s life!), working, and watching television and playing video games. Ultimately, the “life” that Lennon is referring to accounts for only 9 years out of 78 years (11.5%) — not much time to find true fulfillment and happiness. To borrow from Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding, one of protagonists from the popular film The Shawshank Redemption: you better “get busy living or get busy dying.”

Here is the breakdown of how much the average American spends on various activities during his or her lifetime of 78 years:

Sleeping: 28.3 years
Working: 10.5 years
Television, video games, social networking: 9 years
Doing chores: 6 years
Eating and drinking: 4 years
Education: 3.5 years
Grooming: 2.5 years
Shopping: 2.5 years
Child care: 1.5 years
Commuting: 1.3 years
Living to accomplish personal goals: 9 years

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