Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Who will remember the humble slide rule?

I had a conversation yesterday that was a bit of reminiscing about things from the past. I can’t remember how it started but it covered the slide rule, ready reckoners, abacus and other things of that ilk. One of those conversations that has meandered along not really having a set destination.

Now, I think that some of you will read this, the few of you that follow this blog, and wonder what on Earth i am talking about. Well, this is a slide rule:

slide rule

The Americans call it a ‘slip stick’ and it works by aligning numbers marked on the scale in certain ways and you can find the answer to all sorts of mathematical conundrums. This is the device that put man on the Moon in a time when this was the calculator of the day. There were no fancy LED screened boxes of electronics that will calculate Pi to a thousand places. In this day and age when physicists are trying to find the Higgs Boson and the numbers that they are dealing with are so miniscule that the ordinary man cannot really comprehend them computers and calculators are an essential item. But back in the fifties when the British had a space program boffins in brown overalls would be sliding their slide rules and calculating gravitational pull and fuel consumption rates all without the need for an electrically powered gadget. I found my slide rule the other day and I can almost remember how to use it. Makes me sound quite old doesn’t it?

Then, before that was the abacus. The Chinese could, and still do, calculate so quickly with this rack of beads that they can beat a man with an electronic calculator. They still have contests for school kids  using abacus in a race against the clock.


Then there was the Ready Reckoner. My dad had several, using them in business to help with various aspects of finance, weights, measures etc. It was just a book of tables to help with pounds, shillings and pence and other values. But then people of my parents generation could add, multiply, subtract and divide in their head. There was no need for a thousand decimal places. When I started as an engineer we worked to thousandths of an inch, now engineers work to millionths of a millimetre. Times and measurements have changed. And the degree of accuracy.



Giant68 Smile