Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Yes, there was life before computers

My daughters like to tease me because I can remember life before the personal computer. When I started college in 1968, one of the important tools of a budding science student was a slide rule. Those of you who don't remember a day when there wasn't, at least, a pocket calculator, may not realize that there was once a time when people actually made complex mathematical computations on a piece of paper and we used something called a pencil.

Well, memories of those old days came flooding back tonight when I was cleaning out my library. I got onto the shelf that held some of my old textbooks and I found a book that was vital to any student who had to go beyond the basic add, subtract, multiply and divide to solve a mathematical problem.

I found my old copy of a book called "Standard Mathematical Tables". This was an amazing collection of computations that were already done for you. Square roots, sines, tangents - and far more complex calculations that this old biologist didn't have to master.

Of course, today anyone can do these calculations in a spreadsheet in a fraction of the time. It is amazing what we can do now with computers and the internet.

I'm going to resist the temptation to wax nostalgic about the "old days" because, quite frankly, I wouldn't want to go back to those days of computing and calculating by hand. My job would be so much more difficult than it already is. I can imagine what it would be like trying to get sales reports out to my staff each Monday. I am very thankful for that box on my desk that creates those reports for me. But it was fun to page through that old book and remember a time when a slide rule was a high tech device.

One thing that hasn't changed over all those years - my wish for you.
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