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.”
Continue reading Maps: Extraordinary Ordinary Things￼ →
Throughout the life of this blog (it started in December 2018), “extraordinary ordinary things” have been essentially things so integrated into our daily lives that we seldom think about them and their origins, e.g. the balloon, elevator, zipper, pencil, postage stamp, U. S. Constitution, etc. In virtually all cases, these seemingly unremarkable items have a long and well-documented history going back thousands of years . The topic of this essay, the “virus,” also has an extremely long history, dating back millions and millions of years rather than just a few millennia, and a backstory that is largely unknown and certainly not well-documented. Nevertheless, today viruses are at the top of most people’s minds, both in the area of health (COVID) and science (computer virus).
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I hate smoking. I have since I was growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s. At that time, a sure sign that one had passed from childhood to adulthood was smoking. At about the age of 10, I decided to get a preview of what would soon be coming my way. So I stole a cigarette from my father, hid behind the garage, lighted up—and nearly coughed my lungs out. I quickly decided that adults were crazy. This was my first cigarette and my last cigarette; I never saw any reason for trying again.
But to be clear, when I say that I am implacably opposed to smoking, I mean only cigarettes. This is because most people I know who smoke cigarettes seem to be addicted to them, puffing away 20, 30, and even 40 of the filthy weeds a day.
However, I don’t feel the same way about cigars and pipes. Why? Because as a child I knew a man who every evening after dinner would sit himself down in a big comfortable chair, take out his pipe, and light up. The look that came over his face when he took that first puff was a joy to behold. He smoked only one pipeful a day and truly enjoyed it. It wasn’t an addictive habit, but rather pure, unadulterated delight.
Continue reading The Pipe : Extraordinary Ordinary Things￼ →
I am an avid fan of television detective shows. Not the rough and tumble shows where someone is always hitting someone or shooting at someone. But rather, if you will excuse the expression, the more “intellectual” ones where most of the action takes place in a sophisticated crime lab and most of the action consists of people looking through a microscope or checking the readout from a mass spectrometer. However, even in the second, and to me higher-level category, at some point, you are almost bound to see members of the constabulary banging on the front door of a house and shouting, “Police! Open up!” Then instantaneously smash through the door, guns drawn and ready for action.
Continue reading The Doorbell: Extraordinary Ordinary Things￼ →