The Rose: Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Whenever I sit down to write one of these essays, I frequently start with an unusual personal experience and expand from there. I tried to do that this time, but it didn’t work. The rose, both physical and conceptual, seems to be so much a part of everyone’s thoughts and experience, any story I could tell probably would quickly be matched and exceeded by someone else’s. So, I gave up. But not entirely.

Anything so intimate and integral to so many people, which characterizes the rose, almost by definition is both ordinary and extraordinary. And occasionally surprising. The rose even plays a significant role in computing and computer science. A fulsome exploration of this unexpected phenomenon will be found in the section “The Rose and Computing” near the end of this essay.

For these (and other) reasons, I have no qualms about welcoming the rose into a place of honor on the list of what I like to call “extraordinary ordinary things.”

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Barcode: Extraordinary Ordinary Things

The barcode, those unreadable patterns of lines on most products we buy, are ubiquitous to the point of being banal. We see them everywhere, and therefore pay little attention to them. However, not so long ago, you wouldn’t have seen them anywhere. Nevertheless, in their short history (approximately 40 years), they have affected daily life in so many ways that if they suddenly disappeared, we wouldn’t know how to live without them. This is why the barcode unquestionably merits a place on the list of what I call “Extraordinary Ordinary Things.”

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Maps: Extraordinary Ordinary Things

If you are anything like me, you grew up driving a car with the glove compartment filled with paper maps. When the GPS (global positioning system) came along, I was not quick to adopt it because I felt that getting there was half the fun. However, I then realized that getting lost was no fun at all, so I installed a GPS, and have never looked back.

The map is one of civilization’s most ancient inventions. Ever since mankind ventured more than a few kilometers away from hearth and home, some means of directing people from where they were to where they wanted to go became essential. Maps are still very much part of our travel. Either on paper or electronically, we could hardly go anywhere without one.

The concept of a map also has important applications elsewhere, notably in mathematics and computer science. 

I therefore strongly believe that the map (or maps) very much deserves a place of honor on the list of what I like to call “Extraordinary Ordinary Things.”

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­ Virus: Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Throughout the life of this blog (it started in December 2018), “extraordinary ordinary things” have been essentially things so integrated into our daily lives that we seldom think about them and their origins, e.g. the balloon, elevator, zipper, pencil, postage stamp, U. S. Constitution, etc. In virtually all cases, these seemingly unremarkable items have a long and well-documented history going back thousands of years . The topic of this essay, the “virus,” also has an extremely long history, dating back millions and millions of years rather than just a few millennia, and a backstory that is largely unknown and certainly not well-documented. Nevertheless, today viruses are at the top of most people’s minds, both in the area of health (COVID) and science (computer virus).

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