07 February, 2012

Understanding Electricity

 I am reading the book White Noise by Don DeLillo and I came across a passage that gave me quite a wake up call. The scene takes place after an airborne toxic event. A family has evacuated to a shelter and the son is talking to the father about individual knowledge and how much we don't understand about the technology around us.

"It's like we've been flung back in time," he said. "Here we are in the Stone Age, knowing all these great things after centuries of progress but what can we do to make life easier for the Stone Agers? Can we make a refrigerator? Can we even explain how it works? What is electricity? What is light? We experience these things every day of our lives but what good does it do if we find ourselves hurled back in time and we can't even tell people the basic principles much less actually make something that would improve conditions. Name one thing you could make. Could you make a simple wooden match that you could strike on a rock to make a flame? We think we're so great and modern. Moon landings, artificial hearts. but what if you were hurled into a time warp and came face to face with the ancient Greeks. The Greeks invented trigonometry. They did autopsies and dissections. What could you tell an ancient Greek that he couldn't say, 'Big deal.' Could you tell him about the atom? Atom is a Greek word. The Greeks knew that the major events in the universe can't be seen by the eye of man. It's waves, it's rays, it's particles."

I think this is the reason why I am so interested in taking things apart. I want to understand how they work. I think I only try to understand things half way because I get tired or it is beyond my comprehension unless I have someone right there to explain it to me. I know a little about a lot of things. These include astronomy, engines, computers, radios, solar panels, rockets etc. I think the least any of us could do is to try and understand how electricity works. I want to learn how to build a crank generator from scratch. I actually found a site that gives you instructions. Here is the link.