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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

You used that to do what?

Artifact of growing older I suppose one of the dubious "fun" parts (one of the few!) is if you are a semi-pack rat, you have "artifacts" from your growing up years. Artifacts that can sometimes bring a pretty penny on ebay. Show one of these babies to anyone under a certain age and they will say: "what the heck is that?"

When I was in high school, we were the last generation of students to learn how to use a slide rule. Four function calculators had just come out. Geeks would ask for them as their main Christmas present, to complement their plastic pocket protector and black glasses which were repaired with adhesive tape. Calculators cost more than the average pony did. So most of us, opting for LPs (those round vinyl things that had one groove a side and music on them) as our gifts, stuck with the slide rules.

I was taught in chemistry class by the venerable "Commander" Kullek - a well-aged (even then) retired Naval officer. I don't remember zip about chemistry, somehow in those heady days of the early 70s we all thought we could learn some nuts and bolts should we decide to take up the Yippy cause and take over the faculty lounge for our very own. When I learned we would be "balancing moles" etc. I was crushed, but realized I still needed the class. One of the few I had in high school to mess up my GPA besides Algebra I. Okay, so I graduated Magna instead of Summa. Mea culpa.

Commander, he was NEVER called anything else, was a true eccentric. You won't see his like around now either. Too Un-PC. He had a riveting way of keeping students awake in class... especially if you had a 7:00 am double lab that day. He had a nifty habit of performing a simple lab experiment with bunsen burner, chemicals, glass do-dads and what not in a reasonably straight forward's what he did EXTRA that fascinated us. Occasionally, he'd smoke a ciggie. In class. During the experiment. At the edge of the lab table, he'd balance the lit ciggie and take the odd drag. Or two. Or three. His "safety net" was an empty metal trash can beneath the ciggie and next to the lab table.

Never blew anything up. Never once did the ciggie fall into the can. We waited. All year. Never happened. Before a test, he'd laugh and stay. "Study hard. Or else you'll get a zero. A DOUBLE zero, if I think you're extra stupid. Ha-ah...those are HOUSE numbers." Unforgettable.

(This blog was inspired by two other blogs: mulier-fortis's post re: the "ology video"
and Fr. Ray Blake's post re: his halcyon Trotskyite days. Both well worth a look!)


Mulier Fortis said...

I remember slide rules... and log books with the sine, cosine and tangent values in them...

(Oh boy... shoot me now!)

I also had to get my grandmother to send me my first calculator from Germany (they were really expensive in the UK) and then I had to get the instruction book translated before I could use the wretched thing!

gemoftheocean said...

I've got two of these puppies, the smaller of the two is about 6 inches long. I really should look on ebay...the larger of the two I photographed. Even rarer out of the pic is where is says "Made in the USA." Geez. We didn't always buy plastic stuff from Malaysia or wherever that stuff comes from now? If at all? I can still remember when "Made in Japan" was a perjorative! The Germans always made the cadillacs of these geek instruments. I still have a little compass set with little do-hickeys I used to use when laying out lighting instrument drawings. Really kewl.

Apparently they really don't slide rules them much anymore...going for a fortune over in geekland.

I alway almost FAINT at the scene in the APOLLO 13 movie when they've "got to DO something" and figure out how much "whatever" and the geek squad all pull out .... slide rules. And the line where the guy says "okay, you've got enough amps in there to just about power this toaster."

When Apollo 13 happen I was in 8th grade, and still thought adults just did everything by "magic" and somehow everything would be okay.... little did I know... I'd have prayed harder than I did!

swissmiss said...

I own slide collectibles. My husband and I are both engineers. Always had calculators in my lifetime ;} My husband knows how to use a slide rule, I would have to read the manual.

I just don't know what to say about Chemistry. It's blasphemous that you don't like it.

gemoftheocean said...

Not really a matter of "like or dislike" -- more like I was REALLY disappointed they didn't teach us how to blow up stuff!

I was always "hit or miss" with science depending on what the topic was. If I liked the topic, I tested well (anatomy ;-D & genetics, for instance) ...if I didn't like the topic, I was the singularly laziest student you'd ever want to see. Biology I got an "A" and a "C", averaging a "B"...but chemistry...ugh... I think I would have enjoyed physics more... but I would have taken more Algebra, and that always screwed up my GPA - although I enjoy READING Feyneman's [sp!] stuff in later life. If they had a "science for idiot teenagers who hate algebra" I could have done it. But nooooo....

How does it happen that I was a freakin' phenom at geometry though? I would screw up the curve for the other students. "No, you guys don't get any points...there was one person in my 4 sections of geometry that DID get a perfect score, so you lot are SOL." That was my hundred. I think I had something like a 96 or 97% average in geometry.

I do like reading about some topics in physics though. Optics, for instance. I like the practical "gee whiz" stuff.

I did make it through a year of calculus at UCSD. I recognize my handwriting in my notebooks, but that's about it. Thank God for the god of partial credit. I sacrificed more than a few cans of goat milk to him. The college chancellor lied his a$$ off in saying that if you were a liberal arts major (history for me) "future employers will be more impressed by a math general distribution class than a science class." BS - but I didn't realize it through I had suffered through most of frosh year with it.

I worked in computer programming for years. For defense department projects. Not one fricken time did anyone ever ask me to do quadratic equations. Ha-ha... was never going to be a civil engineer though. Unless you don't mind a collapsed bridge or building or two. I DID like reading about the Gilbreths though. And time and motion study that they pioneered. Cool stuff. I STILL lather up "the Gilbreth way."

Unknown said...

I learnt to use a slide rule at school. It was, and still can be, quicker than other methods.

The only problem was that you had to remember how many powers of ten to multiply your answer by.

It's often been said that several bridge disasters were the result of the engineers getting their powers of ten wrong when calculating forces, etc on the slide rule.

gemoftheocean said...

Vernon, that wouldn't surprise me a bit. Precisely the problem I had with it.

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