Category Archives: General

Ballpoint Pen: Extraordinary ordinary things

Has this ever happened to you? Someone says to you, “Make a note of this.” So you whip out your smartphone, open a file, and start your fingers whizzing over the virtual keyboard or start writing on the screen with a stylus to input the information. However, if you are not a millennial, you would more likely grab a piece of paper, whip out your ballpoint pen, and start making notes in dark, indelible blue or black ink.

Even if you are a millennial, chances are you nevertheless walk about with one or more ballpoint pens, simply because they are handy, apparently simple, and cheap.

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The Pillow: Extraordinary Ordinary Things

When was the last time you went to sleep without a pillow? Chances are never, or only under duress. Sleeping without a pillow is about as common as sleeping standing up. But why? It seems the human body is so constructed that sleeping without some kind of support for the head is extremely uncomfortable, and therefore of necessity to be avoided.

A head with eyes closed, snuggled down on a pillow is a widespread symbol for rest, relaxation, and contentment. But it wasn’t always like that. For much of human history, and still in parts of the world today, a pillow was not soft and comfy, the proverbial “sack stuffed with feathers.” Instead, it was solid and sturdy, what might better be called a headrest rather than a pillow.

The shapes and varieties of materials from which they were made have varied widely from culture to culture and from century to century. However, their purpose was always the same, to support the head to help induce and maintain sleep.

Because it plays such an indispensable role in fostering health and well-being, I believe the pillow unquestionably deserves a place on the list of what I like to call  “extraordinary ordinary things.”

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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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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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