All posts by Philip Yaffe

Philip Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA's daily student newspaper. He has more than 40 years of experience in journalism and international marketing communication. At various points in his career, he has been a teacher of journalism, a reporter/feature writer with The Wall Street Journal, an account executive with a major international press relations agency, European marketing communication director with two major international companies, and a founding partner of a specialized marketing communication agency in Brussels, Belgium, where he has lived since 1974. He is author of 14 books, which can be found easily in Amazon Kindle.

Umbrella—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

I grew up in Los Angeles and lived there until the age of 23. In all that time, I don’t recall ever owning an umbrella. I probably did, but I just don’t recall it because Los Angeles, like the rest of Southern California, has very little (too little) rainfall.

I then moved to Mwanza, Tanzania, on the southern shore of Lake Victoria. There I also never owned an umbrella because the weather was even better than in Los Angeles. Year-round, the sky was always a brilliant blue, with never a grey day in sight. During the short monsoon (rainy) season, you would occasionally see a small white cloud peak its head above the horizon. At that moment you would set your watch because you knew that about two hours later it would be pouring down in buckets, then after another couple of hours, the sky would once again be cloudless and brilliantly blue.

I now live in Brussels, Belgium. This little kingdom bordering on the North Sea bears a reputation of being very rainy. When a friend of mine who used to live here returned to the U.S., he would occasionally call. The first words out of his mouth were always, “Is it raining in Belgium? And If not, why not?” This is very much stretching the truth. Nevertheless, living in Belgium without an umbrella would be entirely unthinkable.

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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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