The most important thing I learned in the Navy’s radio school was not Morse Code. I could barely copy 20 words a minute when I graduated from radio school and was pretty much useless when I got to the fleet. It was a good thing most of what we did was done on a teletype machine. I can type.
No, the most important thing I learned was when something electrical didn’t work first make sure it’s plugged in. You laugh, I’m sure, but I’ve seen it time and again with others who didn’t do that simple step first and wasted a lot of time trying to make something work that wasn’t broken.
One of my radio school classmates was a guy named Fisher. I think he came from Buffalo. He was a really intelligent person and grasped most of what we were taught quite quickly. But there was one lesson that eluded him: the difference between current and voltage.
Current was easy to grasp. That’s what flows through electrical wires (when they’re plugged in). Fisher could not grasp voltage. The rest of us did because we took orders unquestionably. But Fisher, as I said, was intelligent and he needed a better understanding. In his mind, voltage flowed with current.
Turns out, voltage is a rather complex thing to explain, as I learned in doing research for this essay. But I remember what our instructor in radio school told Fisher: Voltage is a measurement taken at a certain point in the wire. It doesn’t flow. It can be found anywhere along a wire, but it doesn’t flow. It’s there and there and there, but it didn’t flow there.
Fisher could not understand that, and when we graduated, we marched to our ceremonies with our homemade class banner that proclaimed: THE FISH KNOWS THAT VOLTAGE FLOWS.
The same problem arises with the people on television who claim to be meteorologists. They don’t understand that temperature is a measurement of the air. It’s just like voltage. It’s there and there and there. It goes up and down.
But what temperature does not do is get colder or hotter. The air does, but the temperature is unfeeling. It just measures how hot or how cold the air is and leaves the rest to us. We’re the ones who decide if it’s hot or cold.
That’s why I cringe when I hear TV weather people say that temperatures will be warm or cold. Every time I hear it, it reminds me of Fisher and the flawed logic of flowing voltage.