Thursday, August 10, 2006

Oh Those Marvelous Machines!






I was about to complete an exercise of about 700 hundred words on the morning’s activities when suddenly the computer cable got detached when my wife accidentally nudged the connecting cable of the transformer. A whole hour’s work bit the dust, gone forever, because the reserve power source no longer worked, one of the many things that no longer worked with my old laptop.

My laptop is a handover from my working days. I have become so attached to this contraption because I spent more intimate hours with it than anybody that I have had the chance to be with, except for my wife, of course. Half my working hours were spent with my lap top doing analyses, reports, writing memos to the staff, doing local and international correspondences and on needed breaks, an occasional computer game. There was never a day that I didn’t have my laptop in tow. It has been a constant companion in client presentations, conferences and workshops and even when on holidays. The demand s of an international business required us to be on call for 24 hours inclusive of weekends and holidays.

This efficient electronic assistant has relegated my secretary into a social scheduler and coffee provider. A noble partner and factotum it has survived the rigors of being the laptop of a hardworking slave to the millstone. Even after my retirement it continued to serve me faithfully.

Expectedly, some of my geriatric quirks have rubbed off on her and sometimes she even has outdone my cantankerousness and obstinacy. I feel she has earned and deserved the privilege to be this way having been battered and abused repeatedly by an insensitive despot.

My laptop was not my first automaton true love. I was, in my younger days, enamored to an olive skinned beauty whose pulchritude can only be paralleled by its namesake during those days; I speak of my Monroe calculator, an engineering wonder at that time.

As a brand assistant in a multinational concern during the late sixties I was equipped with this machine so that we could do endless computations of product mix costing alternatives, meticulous budget trials for support activities, marketing plans and doing validations of market volume and value estimates.

Though without the sanctity of marriage, I was a live-in partner of this beauty. I can still feel the sensual pleasure derived from caressing the smooth keys on the board and delight at the tinkle at the end of each forward and backward stroke of the crank. This was a love affair that did not last for long. Our Marketing Director at that time was a very numerate person who did mental computations and came up with results faster than anyone of us even with our Monroes in hand. He would chide us about how slow we were despite our mechanical aid. He would say “look chum we haven’t got all day”, these said with a matching thump on the table with his fist.

Some of us made use of the slide rule. Although you could quickly come up with approximations, most of the time this was not good enough because oftentimes precision was required. Margin computations need to have at least a modicum of accuracy and so too are the weighing of alternative costs of different product formulations.

I found the solution to this problem in a book that I chanced upon at the National Book Store. The book’s title was the Trachtenberg Method of Speed Math, a system of computation that could make you breeze through computational challenges without paper in hand and without any sort of mechanical aid. The method required the setting aside of the rules of arithmetic that has already been ingrained in you ever since you stepped into a school room and the replacement of this by a completely new set of procedures and rules. Trachtenberg devised this method while in the concentration camp of the Nazis during World War II. To keep his sanity he mentally composed the new system and scribbled notes using bits of charcoal and paper scraps that he hid in the interstices of the stonewalls of the prison camp.

Those days were my days of struggle and any opportunity of impressing the gods that be were pursued assiduously to gain some positive attention to one’s self. I persevered with the book and pored through it with a fine sifter making sure not to miss any little detail. It took months but at the end of the effort I emerged confident with my new found skills. I made sure that this will not go unnoticed and even tried to outgun a visibly impressed boss.

I have long forgotten and lost this skill through unuse. Not long after this the handheld electronic calculator arrived in the scene and anybody but anybody could do speed calculations with no sweat at all. The skill that I acquired was really doomed to obsolescence. A little later the personal computers came along with programs that could do simultaneous calculations of near infinite umbers, this among other task ameliorating capabilities. All these smart new fangled inventions must have made Trachtenberg turn in his grave.

2 comments:

lovesjazzlovescoffee said...

Hi there!!

WE live in such a rich technologic world....I am very guilty of using both a calculator and a PC for most everything!!

The mental math skills you learned from the book,Trachtenberg Method of Speed Math, would certainly be handy to know!!

I know many older folks who can mentally do math faster then I can on my calculator...but I do not know any young ones who can!! Oh dear!!!

MY father says the youth of today are menatlly stronger and physically weaker...but maybe not with math!! :))

I am so sorry you lost your 700 word exercise this am....I missed reading it...I love hearing about your mornings!! Please do repeat this some other morning!!

Have a great day!!

wayfarer said...

LJLC,
How quickly things get obsolete nowadays! Technology is wonderful but tiring...a necessary trade-off.

thanks for your commments

Halcyon