Category Archives: History

How Computing Could Help Put an End to Wars. All Wars. Everywhere in the World.

The outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine has riveted the world’s attention on the unthinkable, a major war on the European continent. Although it has been some 77 years since the last major war in Europe ended, to anyone paying attention its outbreak should have come as no surprise. War appears to be inherent in human nature. So invoking it seems to be inevitable as long as human beings have the material means and political ability to put it into practice.

Continue reading How Computing Could Help Put an End to Wars. All Wars. Everywhere in the World.

TV Remote Control—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

The purpose of the “Extraordinary Ordinary Things” series of blogs is to highlight that certain things have become so embedded in daily life that we hardly ever think about them, and then to show how they are really dramatically remarkable. Frequently, examination of a particular extraordinary ordinary thing opens the door to a much broader concept whose effects on society are virtually incalculable. This is the case here with the TV remote control, specifically, and the virtually all-encompassing concept of remote control in general.

Continue reading TV Remote Control—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

The Constitution of the United States of America—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

I am an American. I say this with no overtones of pride or regret. It is simply a statement of fact. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, California. I have been living in Brussels, Belgium since 1974.

The reason I mention all this is because being an American living abroad, I am considered to be somewhat of an expert on the United States, its history, its laws, its customs, etc. I am frequently solicited by my non-American friends and acquaintances to explain something they have recently heard about this wondrous country across the ocean because they simply don’t have the background to understand it. I say this sheepishly because Europeans know more about my native country than most people in my native country know about theirs. They also care more about my native country than most people in my native country care about theirs.

A key element in things they have heard about the United States in recent years (particularly since the advent of Donald J. Trump) has to do with the vaunted U.S. Constitution, officially known as the Constitution of the United States of America.

Continue reading The Constitution of the United States of America—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

The Lock—Extraordinary Ordinary Things

A major hit song of the 1960s, in fact, now considered to be a classic, is Roger Miller’s 1966 rendition of “King of the Road,” lauding the freedom of being a drifter, working only when necessary, and constantly moving on. Everything leads the listener to believe the singer is an honest person with minimal wants and needs. However, at one point he informs us:

I know every engineer on every train
All of the children and all of their names
Every handout in every town
Every lock that ain't locked when no one's around.

The last line appears quite ambiguous. I have never quite understood how to interpret it because it seems so out of character with the rest of the song. I would really like to know.

However, what is certainly not ambiguous or open to question is the important roles the lock has played in defining and shaping human society. Indeed, for some, it is virtually the quintessential dividing line between city folks, i.e. those who lock their doors, often with multiply locks, for fear of unwanted intrusions, and country folk, i.e. those who don’t lock their doors because they feel there is no need to. “Everyone knows everyone, so we are certain no one is going to do anyone any harm.”

Continue reading The Lock—Extraordinary Ordinary Things