Physics, but not as we know it

29th November 2002 at 00:00
NOT long after I started writing for The TES Scotland, I bought a palmtop computer. The idea was that I would be able to write down my wit and repartee while supervising my children at the swing-park. Since then, I have owned a variety of devices, each of increasing sophistication for roughly the same money.

Now I have gone over (so some would have it) to the personal digital assistant Dark Side. I have partially abandoned the keyboard-based machine for a pen-based device. I didn't intend this to happen - it was an under-guarantee exchange after my "great when it worked" clone of a famous make packed in for the third time in as many months.

There was no equivalent organiser that had both a keyboard and a decent built-in word-processor for anything like the same money, so I took the palm-lined path.

I knew that the handwriting recognition would be slow and inaccurate. Except that it isn't. In truth, I can fling text down on the screen faster than I ever could with my self-taught two-fingered typing technique. It makes me wonder if the keyboard has had its day. Doubtless this sounds like the end of civilisation to some people.

When electronic calculators first came out, there was a similar stushie. Kids wouldn't be able to do long divisions anymore. Gasp! In fact, the only negative effect of the calculator was that it inspired complete trust in its answers, a trust that was unwarranted solely due to the axiom that is as old as computing itself: GIGO, or Garbage In-Garbage Out. All that was needed was for estimation to be taught and, if my own children's homework is anything to go by, that has now been addressed.

The effect on physics in the classroom has been hugely positive. Turgid calculations which would have made Carol Vordeman rush for an application form to the Marj Adams Appreciation Society are done in a jiffy, no longer obscuring what the subject is really about.

I find a new development much more challenging. PDAs and sophisticated calculators can store all the physics formulae you could ever need. Users can enter in figures and have the answer at the touch of a button or the poke of the pen. There is still the skill of selecting the correct formula and I think we are still left with physics, albeit physics, Jim but not as we know it.

Or is it no longer physics at all? Answers on an e-mail, composed on an organiser and beamed over to your mobile, please.

Grgor Steeel wrote msot of this articte on his handurlting-recogntiqn PDN.

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