Playing Cards—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

When I was a kid, I had a passion for card tricks. One day someone showed me a card trick based on a mathematical formula. It was astonishing. He gave me the formula for doing it, but didn’t tell me how it worked, so I set about trying to figure it out for myself. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t see where the formula came from. I even asked a couple of high-powered students at CalTech (California Institute of Technology) for help. They said “Sure. Give us a couple of days and we will get back to you.” I never heard from them again.

Many years late, I did figure it out. I was extremely proud of myself, not because I had solved a very complex problem but because I had solved a very easy one. It just didn’t look easy when I first saw it, and for many years thereafter.

Card tricks still fascinate me, especially those based on mathematical formulas. I will tell you about this one a bit later in this blog. But first I would like to establish why playing cards themselves justly deserve a place on the list of what I like to call “Extraordinary Ordinary Things.”

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COVID-19 with a Smiley Face

We probably all know the aphorism “Laughter is the best medicine.” In this era of COVID-19, mental health professionals often remind us of the importance of maintaining our courage by maintaining our sense of humor. People love telling jokes, which is one way of doing this. Computer scientists and programmers are no exception to this truism. Neither are they exceptions to the dictum that the best jokes are usually the shortest jokes. Among professional comedians, these little gems are known as “one-liners.”

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Flashlight (Torch)— Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Since the dawn of time, or perhaps more appropriately, since the night of time as they say in French (la nuit du temps), mankind has needed something to light their way in the dark to see where they are going. Most often it was a treated as a burning stick, generally called a “torch.” The burning torch filled the bill until very late in the 19th century, just over 130 years ago, with the invention of a reliable, easily portable electric light.

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KITE—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

Ben Franklin was not the first example of a kite being used for a scientific experiment, nor was it the last. Few people know that kites today are still very much being used to explore and understand our world. If you do already know this, that’s what makes you a nerd.

The subtle humor of Charles Schulz’s beloved “Peanuts” comic strip (which débuted in 1947) is somewhat of an acquired taste. When they first come across it, many people see little or nothing to it. However, the more they are exposed to the comic, the more they appreciate its delicate profundity. That’s what makes them intellectuals.

Most likely, dear reader, you fall into both categories, which together make you a very well rounded person.

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