Category Archives: Technology

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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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