Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Friday, April 11, 2014


Sometimes, when I am sitting at my PC I look to my left at my desk and concentrate on two things that help keep me grounded, well three things, if you count the clutter.  Einstein is anecdotally quoted as saying, “A cluttered desk is the sign of an active mind.” If that is true, my grounding stems from wondering why, as cluttered as my desk is, is my mind not more active?

The two items that catch my attention are items from my past, each with its own story: a slide rule and an Abacus.

The slide rule belonged to my sister and was one of the few items she left behind that I kept, along with a lamp, a table and chairs.  Most of her possessions were sold, including her house in Marin, with assets going through me to her nephews, who were her surrogate children.

It is an exceptionally nice slide rule, a present from our parents when she was accepted as one of four women to the five-year Architectural Engineering program at Iowa State University. Its leather case is still supple after sixty-five years. And, while I have a problem reading the small-print numbers, I think I could still remember how to multiply using it, if not how to find square roots.

Those were the tasks she taught me, as I struggled through algebra and more importantly Trigonometry in high school.  I had my own slide rule, a much cheaper model that was the iPad of its time.  It too, was initially banned from classrooms when tests were given and that mystery increased its attraction.  The immediate successor of the slide rule was the pocket calculator, which became affordable and in common usage in the 1970s.  Of course children of my grandchildren’s generation would hardly recognize a pocket calculator from a paperweight.

My father was very proud of my sister and followed her education as closely as he followed my career into his profession: dentistry. I remember specifically one holiday meal when she was at the table and he asked his prospective Engineering daughter whether she ever used that transom thing to survey.  When she replied in the affirmative he asked, “What do you see?”  She explained that unless another student was in sight, holding a stick, you would see nothing of value.

The second item is an Abacus I picked up one time when I was in Hong Kong, probably on liberty from a ship I was stationed on.  I was intrigued by the speed with which a street vendor could total the cost of multiple items on the bargaining process.  While I understand the concept and in fact have used it on occasion for addition or subtraction, its very presence reminds me that I do not possess the skills of even an uneducated Asian merchant.

There are other items on my desk that trigger memories: various boxes from various countries, standard desk items holding standard desk clutter, many of which trigger memories of where they came from and what they have held, but those two items are constant reminders of my life, when it was simpler and I was less jaded.

I’m sure I am not alone in treasuring that perspective.

Next Post I’ll cover a topic I call The Science of Lines.  I think you’ll find it interesting.

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