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Hand-Calcs vs. Computer Calcs

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Hello all.

I've had an opportunity to tutor high school kids in math & science (for
about two-three years, part time) and was rather shocked to discover their
reliance on calculators. Most classes require the fancy graphing ones, where
all you have to do is plug in your equation and the calculator graphs it for
you. I've seen problems that tell the student to "look at the graph and
describe what it's doing" and that's about all. When I challenged them to
plot the graph by hand (finding maxima, minima, etc.), many had no idea what
to do. Once I taught them how to do it and encouraged them to ask their
teachers to show them this, I could see a definite improvement in their
understanding of how mathematic equations really work and a better
understanding of what to expect with different powers of polynomials.

I've recently received a demo version of KeyLat and found it interesting
that you could " lateral analysis on a two story home in as little as
one hour!" with this software. I hearkened back to the "graphing calculator"
debacle. Do you think there may be the potential of our profession becoming
too "computerized"? I know full well that there are certain applications
that require the use of sophisticated computer programs and that, in order
to stay competitive, we need to do our calcs faster (computers help with
that), but do we need to jump on the computer every time we need to design a
simply-supported beam or a drag strut?

Now, to be fair, KeyLat producers do include statements such as "...the
designer makes critical modeling and design parameter decisions" and that
subscribers must be registered engineers or architects, but I'm just not
sure this is a great direction to take the profession, especially for the
lateral design of a two story home. Yes, the lateral systems in those
structures can be quite complicated and tedious, but for a complicated
system, doesn't it make more sense to be a bit more "hands-on"? Computers
can help prevent (not eliminate) errors in calculations, but so can
continual repetition of reasonable hand calcs and analysis of load transfer
systems (hearkening back to the days of math flash cards and memorization:
the more you do it, the more familiar things are and the better an
understanding of how things work). KeyLat does appear to be a pretty neat
program but, again, is this the direction we want the profession to move?

Maybe I'm way off base with all of these ramblings, but I'd like to see
other's views on these things.

Dave Adams, S.E.
Lane Engineers, Inc.
Tulare, California