Slip Slidin' Away

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At my exams, I bring a couple of extra calculators for those who might have forgotten to bring one.  This always happens.  So, last time, I brought those and I also brought my slide rule, which saw me through high school and college (remember, I'm "sexagenarian," and not far from "septuagenarian").

Still in its holster that we geeks (avant le lettre) wore on our belts back then.  I offered either a calculator or the slide rule (a Pickett) and said, "Which do you prefer?"  I did this tongue-in-cheek, of course, since I've previously shown the slide rule and asked, "Does anyone know what this is?"  No one does.  And no fault of the students.  I recall putting the slipstick into a drawer back in the mid-70s and taking up the calculator.  Slide rules are the buggy whips of the digital era.

And yet, there are some advantages to the knowing how to use a slide rule that knowing how to use a calculator does not have.  Most important to my mind is being competent in exponential arithmetic, since a slide rule does not handle that; you have to keep track of the exponents yourself.  It also helps prevent what I call "sig fig errors," as I get so many answers from students that are in the form, say, 1.5899342, when the calculation values used have only two or three significant figures themselves.  "This must be the right answer; the calculator told me so."

Any fora members old enough to have a slide rule tucked away in a drawer?

I did find that age has made the fine divisions on the rule rather hard to see, even with glasses.

I have at least five stored away in various places. One was given to me by a relative on the day I was born, back in the Early Devonian; a most unusual baby present, I imagine.

I am too young to have ever used a slide rule in school, but I do have one somewhere, because my father, who was a bit of a math geek and hoped that his daughter would become one too*, gave me one as a gift when I was 7 or 8. Sadly, I never did figure out how to use it, and he never did succeed at teaching me how.

*Luckily he was also a bit of a language/lit geek. That part, I inherited more successfully.

I have at least five of them (mine and my husband's). I even still have one of the instruction "manuals" that came with it. The slide rule was the bane of my existence in high school chemistry. We took one in and showed the teens at the zoo how to use it, once, pointing out that this was what was used to get us to the moon and back. They were duly impressed and spent a couple of hours trying to decipher its workings with the help of the manual.

I used one for general chemistry.  I liked the way that it always assured me that you can add exponents.  Pickett.  I had trouble keeping track of their significance too.


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