May 4

Star Wars, empty boxes, a life-saving transplant, Photoshop, and Warren Buffett. Also, 7 other things worth your time

Today is May 4, a/k/a, “May the Fourth,” according to fans of the Star Wars franchise.

Even if you're not into the movies, I think you'll like the stories we have today. All you really need to know in that case is that "May the Force be with you" is a major catch phrase.

We’re told the pun-based-pseudo-holiday has its roots from May 4, 1979, when Margaret Thatcher first became UK prime minister (41 years ago today; two years after the original movie came out). Her Conservative party supposedly ran a full-page ad in the London Evening News playing off it:

"May the Fourth Be with You, Maggie. Congratulations."

From there, the whole thing took on a life of its own. Disney now makes a bit of a deal out of it, hosts celebrations at Disney World (in normal times), and sometimes releases related installments of the saga on May 4.

In the spirit of May the 4th, here are three people whose lives were changed by Star Wars.

1. The empty box

Imagine, you're in grade school, it's Christmas 1977, and you're obsessed with Star Wars. You wake up, sprint down the stairs, look under the tree—and find an empty box.

That's what happened for 500,000 kids that year. The reason was that Kenner Products, which owned the toy licensing rights to Star Wars, couldn't design, manufacture and ship the toys in time for Christmas.

In stepped Bernard Loomis, company president, who came up with the idea of the Early Bird set: a cardboard diorama and a promise that when the action figures of Luke Skywalker, R2-D2 and the like were available a few months later, Kenner would send them by mail.

"Here we were with an extraordinary demand and no product to fill it with," he told the Star Wars blog "Rebel Scum" some years ago. (Loomis died in 2006). "We limited sales to 500,000 units, and the 1.5 million figures in the Gift Certificate Program led to the sale of 40 million figures the following year."

2. The life-saver

Arguably, Josh Weiselberg might not even be alive if it weren't for Star Wars. A big-time fan, he and Barry Benecke met each other online at about the turn of the century, as members of multiple Star Wars fandom groups.

But, they only knew each others’ online names, and didn't meet in person until about 2008, after Benecke learned that Weiselberg needed a kidney transplant, and Benecke offered to donate one of his own.

This was no small thing; after the surgeries both men had complications and apparently took quite some time to recover. Benecke said he’d been motivated to help because he'd lost his mother and several friends to cancer in the years before he learned of Weiselberg's plight.

"Barry's gift ... it's nothing short of incredible," Weiselberg said afterward. "I was really ready to give up on myself and could not see myself continuing with dialysis. ... Every day, I'm grateful."

3. Photoshop

In 1987, a doctoral candidate named Thomas Kroll was working in his spare time on a programming project that would let him display grayscale images on a black and white monitor. He thought it had “limited value at best,” according to a report, because it was pretty far afield from what he was studying.

But, Kroll had a brother, John Kroll, who had been a Star Wars fan from the first time he saw the first movie in 1977, and who had pursued a career in visual effects. By now he was working in his dream job at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) -- Star Wars creator George Lucas's special effects company.

At John’s urging, Thomas Kroll worked on a color version of the program, and they developed it into full-fledged editing software. The brothers' official story is that John Kroll was the first to see the program as something that might have commercial viability. Reportedly, they now can't remember who first suggested the name that stuck: Photoshop.

An epic poem's worth of attempts to distribute or sell Photoshop ensued, but by April 1989 they had a deal: Adobe bought a license to distribute the program, and the rest is history.

7 other things worth your time

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