The Lessons of Burnt Toasts


I was feeling a bit peckish last night. So I thought I will toast two slices of bread for myself. I switched on the oven toaster and watched television while waiting. When I thought the bread was done, I went into the kitchen. I had a shock. There was so much smoke and my toast apparently went over from being toasted bread to being a candidate for winning the blackest burnt thing on earth.

I must admit it has been quite a while since I last touched the toaster myself being over dependent on my better half. I think I set the settings wrong. It is an oven toaster and it was capable of doing other things, other than just toasting bread. But I have to admit that even simple skills like that have deserted me on account that I hardly touched the dials. If I had, then I would have been able to do it so much easier.

There are other skills which we all lose as we either progressed in life or simply do not use anymore. My son talked about my driving sometimes when I misjudged the timing of the traffic lights, stopping way ahead. I don't drive that much anymore too other than at the weekends. But I haven't lost my typing skills. I do that everyday and I think I typed even faster than most of my staff. I took up an evening typing course at university then using a manual typewriter.

Where am I going with this entry? I was watching my son doing his arithmetic by long hand. Then I remembered my minister talking about the Apollo programs (sending men to the moon in the 1960s) which resulted from talking about the Vision of NASA (Sending Man to the Moon) which was successfully cascaded down to the janitors that when asked what they do, they said that they were helping send men to the moon. Anyway, we moved on to talking about the Apollo programs which was using computers having the power of today's calculators.

Slide rules and log books are what we used in the past before the usage of calculators and before the coming of computers. Many engineering marvels were engineered on slide rules. And so was the atom bomb. Go backward further in time, the pyramids were built using hand calculations. Do you think we can go back to the time and do what we do today without computers? I guess the answer is no.

I am not saying it is a waste of time, sometimes I wonder about my knowledge of the pythagoras theorem. The things I learnt in additional maths, the vectors, the differentiation and the integration which I learnt as if it was going to be the most important thing in my life and find out now that I am not even using it anymore. I can draw three dimensional mechanical drawings complete with what it will look like inside but I don't use it. I studied geometrical and mechanical technical drawing up to O level.

But does it may make more sense to concentrate on using the "extended" knowledge that the internet and computers supply rather than going to first principles? I read somewhere that someone asked whether we should contintue to cultivate these "obsolete skills"? Or do we move forward making the assumption the "enhanced knowledge source" that the internet and the computer supply. Even handwriting is becoming obsolete.

But the scary thing is that if I don't know the basic stuff, I end up with burnt toast and an empty stomach. Hmmm. Just a thought.

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