“Dad says that anyone who can’t use a slide rule is a cultural illiterate and should not be allowed to vote.” – Have Space Suit – Will Travel, 1958. by Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988)
Back in May, in a post about a “now vs. then” technology comparison (actually, iPod vs. Walkman), I mentioned coming across my slide rule on an occasion when one of my younger colleagues, who had never seen one, was present. I was reminded of that by an E-mail I received recently from ThinkGeek (a purveyor of geek toys), advertising the availability of slide rules for sale. Apparently slide rules (or “slip-sticks”) are now so retro that they are becoming cool.
Through this terrible dark technology period the mechanical slide rule was the one gleam of hope that true geeks could cling to. Here was a simple device with one sliding part that could do complex mathematical calculations in moments.
Now, I’m not very used to being a trend-setter, but this image, with me and my classmate Laurel, from my high school yearbook, is proof:
All kidding aside, I was sort of intrigued that some people were apparently interested in slide rules. Following some of the links from the ThinkGeek product listing, I found some amusing stuff for other old crocks that still remember pre-electronic calculation..
There is a site for the Oughtred Society; in their own words:
The Oughtred Society was founded in 1991 by a group of slide rule collectors and is dedicated to the preservation and history of slide rules and other calculating instruments. In the past 18 years it has evolved to an international organization with members in 22 countries.
They have an interesting history of the slide rule, a FAQ, and even a nascent section on slide rule humor. (Now that is geeky!)
There is also (who knew?) an International Slide Rule Museum, located in Louisville, Colorado, whose site has a wealth of information, including a do-it-yourself course in how to use a slide rule. In keeping with the electricity-free ethos of the slide rule, there is even a version you can download and print out – you can study with no batteries or wimpy Internet connection required.
More seriously, I can’t think of a more effective device for really learning how powers, exponents, and logarithms work.
Curmudgeons of the world, unite!