Sometimes you see something on a TV sitcom that sounds incredibly funny or clever or outrageous, and you assume it is a fiction that was created by the show's writers, and it's only later you discover that it was based on real life (whatever that is).
For example, do you recall the episode from The Big Bang Theory in which Raj suggests they use the Rock Paper Scissors game to resolve a dispute, and Sheldon counters by proposing they use Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock instead (you can see this clip on YouTube by clicking here).
The thing is that when I first saw this, I absolutely believed it originated with the scriptwriters; it was only later that I discovered that the entire Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock concept was invented by Sam Kass and Karen Bry.
Similarly, when you read a book, you may be presented with something so weird and wacky that you assume it has a work of fiction, only to discover that it's actually based on reality. The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett provide numerous instances of this sort of thing. For example, the business man Harry King, is said to have earned his livelihood as a kid working as a “tosher,” which is described as someone who searches for valuables in the sewers.
In The Truth , Harry is extremely impressed when he discovers that the newspaper editor/publisher William de Worde knows that the term “tosheroon” is the name for a lump of debris and rubbish formed from the mud and gunk found clogged in drains. While they appear worthless, tosheroons can actually contain valuable items, such as old coins, lost rings, and suchlike. The thing is that that in London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew (a contemporary of Charles Dickens), we discover that toshers and tosheroons were real.
Or take Terry's Making Money , in which Lord Havelock Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork (and the namesake of my Vetinari Clock project), forces the unfortunately-names Moist von Lipwig to take over the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork and the Royal Mint. As part of this tale, Moist meets Hubert Turvy, who is described as a “borderline mad scientist,” being possessed of an excellent Mad Laugh, but who can generally catch himself in the act before he throws in other phrases such as “I'll show them all!!!!!”
Hubert is the creator of the Glooper , which is a device that uses water to create a model of the economy (this machine starts out as an emulator of how money in the city might behave and ends up able to control what the money is doing). When I first came across this part of the story, I had a good laugh and I gave a metaphorical nod to Terry's ingenuity. It was sometime later that I discovered the Glooper was actually based on a real-world device called the MONIAC (Monetary National Income Analogue Computer), which was created in 1949 by the New Zealand economist William (Bill) Phillips.
The reason I'm waffling on about all of this is that someone just pointed me at an entry in Tim Babb's Bzarg blog, which spans graphics, physics, programming, and philosophy, to name but a few. Do you recall Episode 1 of Season 1 of the TV Sitcom Silicon Valley ? The part where entrepreneur Elrich Bachman says:
Yeah, I know what binary is […] I memorized the hexadecimal times tables when I was fourteen writing machine code. Okay? Ask me what nine times F is. It's fleventy-five . I don't need you to tell me what binary is.
Well, as you can see in his How to pronounce hexadecimal blog, Tim has grabbed onto this concept with both hands and is running with it as fast and far as he can. For example, Tim suggests we adopt the following “number-words” for hexadecimal: 0xA0 (“Atta”), 0xB0 (“Bibbity”), 0xC0 (“City”), 0xD0 (“Dickety”), 0xE0 (“Ebbity”), and 0xF0 (“Fleventy”).
From these humble beginnings, Tim explains that we can extrapolate to multi-digit values like 0xB3 (“bibbity-three”), 0xF5 (“fleventy-five”), 0xE4 (“ebbity-four”), 0xA7 (“atta-seven”), 0xC5 (“city-five”), and 0xDB (“dickety-bee”). You have to admit that these have a happy ring to them.
In the same way that we have special words like “hundred” and “thousand” for place values higher than 10 in decimal, Tim suggests we use words like “bitey” for multiples of 0x100. He even provides a tool that allows you to enter four-digit hexadecimal values and have them translated into his number-word equivalents; for example, 0xABCD would become “atta-bee bitey city-dee.”
What can I say? I love this stuff! How about you? Can you think of any other cases in books, movies, or TV programs where something is presented that one might assume was totally fictional, but which actually turns out to be rooted in reality?