November 14th in nerd history: The whale started it

November 14th in nerd history: The whale started it

Happy National Pickle Day! Unless you don't like pickles, which I don't, which makes me wonder why I'm even doing this. What have I become?

This is The Reset Button from Classic Nerd, resetting your day.

November 14 in Nerd History

Here are five things that happened on November 14th at the intersection of nerd and pop culture.


Birthdays of honor: Claude Monet (1840), Josh Duhamel (1972), Travis Barker (1975), Yanni (1954), Aaron Copland (1900).


Today in 1851, calling someone Ishmael took on a whole new meaning when the seminal Moby-Dick; or, The Whale was published. While it had been released in separate volumes (and missing the epilogue) in London a month earlier (and shortened to just Moby-Dick), it was on this day in New York that the book was available widely as a single volume.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Herman Melville had been a moderately successful writer up to the point of Moby-Dick's publication, but his ambition to create a great literary work grew the more he worked on his new novel, which took him at least a year and a half to write. He was so sure it would be a hit that he borrowed $3,000 from his father-in-law in 1850 to buy a farm in Massachusetts, where he spent his days working.

Instead, it was met with, at best, mixed reviews, and some that were downright nasty (calling Melville "crazy"). Commercially, it was a failure, and Melville passed away in 1891 with some respect, but certainly not known as the author of one of the greatest works in literary history.

It wasn't until 1919, the centennial of his birth, that interest in the tale of Ishmael, Captain Ahab, and that jerk of a whale that likes to eat legs resurfaced in the public consciousness. With authors like D.H. Lawrence and William Faulkner gushing about it, Moby-Dick began to enjoy reprints and would come to be seen as one of the most important novels in American literature.


These days when a new music video comes out, we just say it "dropped" which usually just means it got posted somewhere on YouTube. But today in 1991, one of the most insane music video "drops" of all time went down, when the video for Michael Jackson's "Black or White" premiered.

Directed by John Landis (yep, that one — who also directed the video for "Thriller"), it premiered in 27 countries simultaneously, airing on MTV, BET, VH1, Fox, and BBC's Top of the Pops. Over 500 million people tuned in to watch the actually pretty impressive morphing effects, as well as George Wendt and Macaulay Culkin acting as father and son.

But for some reason, people really focused on the extended scenes of a panther morphing into Jackson on a city street, followed by him basically breaking a bunch of stuff, yelling, and grabbing his crotch. Those were edited out basically immediately after the premiere...

Yet, brought back! In 2001 the video was reissued with the controversial scenes included, but this time all the stuff he destroyed had hateful messages on it — so I guess he was, uh, doing something good that whole time.

This is why you need people around you that say "no" sometimes, folks.


In 1967, the first patent for the world's first laser was granted to its inventor, Theodore Maiman.

First fired in 1960, Maiman could only tell his laser had worked by shooting it at a synthetic ruby and watching it brighten up. By 1962, he was bouncing laser beams off the moon.

And today we honor the father of lasers by thanking him for not just immediately taking the world hostage with his invention, which he obviously could have easily done.


Today in 1960, Ruby Bridges became the first Black child to attend a previously all-white school when she stepped inside William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana. I dunno if this can be considered "nerdy", but that's a pretty badass thing for a kid to have done.