Calculators for hairy-eared engineers
June 23, 2004 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Calculators for hairy-eared engineers Mike Konshak's scanned and photographed collection of 500 slide rules from around the world (click on 'Mike's Slide Rules' in left-hand frame). An article on Mike from the local paper.
posted by carter (9 comments total)
posted by DrJohnEvans at 7:54 AM on June 23, 2004

Y'know, when I was in sixth grade, my math teacher had a huge slide rule nailed along the top of the chalkboard. I was afire with curiousity as to what this mystical mysterious device had to do with math. When I asked her what it was on the first day of class, she said I'd have to buy one as part of her school supply requirements, and that we'd be learning how to use them sometime in the second half of the year. Anticipating Christmas presents never had me so anxious as did the solution to this mystery.

Then an abortive attempt by the US to switch to the metric system and the installation of a computer outside her classroom door (actually a teletype that was hooked up to a big time-sharing computer somewhere downtown) somehow managed to kill the slide rule's importance in everyone's lives in that small classroom, and I never ended up learning what it was or how to use one (until much, MUCH later). The number of people who seemed to place an almost mystical significance upon the device shrank dramatically thereafter, like a religion abandoned. Electronic calculators, the possession of which on school grounds which was once a suspension-worthy offense, now started appearing in the slide rule's place.

I lost my interest in math and public education right then, and I bemoan the injustice of a cruel, cruel universe.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:01 AM on June 23, 2004

I fundamentally appreciate the efforts of sites like this. While many people will guffaw and chide "looks like someone has too much time on their hands yadda yadda," there's something intrinsically cool about the collection and display of obscure items. You know, so long as it isn't severed heads or anything.

Or cat puke.
posted by Hankins at 8:19 AM on June 23, 2004

I have a slide rule, and I don't know how to use it. It is very cool though, and I am proud to own it, but I'd never wear it on my belt the way those engineering students wore their TI scientific calculators, or the HP one with their nifty reverse polish (or whatever it's called) data entry.
posted by Eekacat at 8:28 AM on June 23, 2004

My public school slide-rule story:

In grade two, learning addition and subtraction tables to twelve were the major milestones of first-term arithmetic. Being fundamentally bone-idle, I noticed the happy coincidence between the limits of the tables and my school ruler. Within the day, I had sketched a 1...12 ruler on my desk and happily shuffled my way through math for the next few months, without a single bit of memorization.

My happy world came crashing down when my teacher became curious about my fidgeting during a test (more than my usual fidgeting anyway). One hasty parent-teacher interview later, and I was found to be half-a-year behind the rest of the class---I didn't know what 2+2 was without my ruler and desk. It took me quite a while to understand why everyone was so upset with me. It wasn't until my dad pointed out that I couldn't take my desk everywhere that I grudging agreed to memorize the addition table.
posted by bonehead at 8:43 AM on June 23, 2004

My father is an electrical engineer and I was taught to be one from an early age.

I was taught to use a slide rule and the first calculator I use was an RPN one.

One of the core attributes of slide rules is that they require you to understand the order of magnitude of the calculation and give you an imprecise answer. This requires you to really think about what you are doing. Often flying fingers on a calculator end up with a wildy wrong number because of a simple error.

At my desk I still have a slide rule & RPN calculator. I find it tremendously difficult to use an = based calculator. It is all counter intuitive to how you actually solve problems.

In engineering school we were told that = based calculators were for accounts and that engineers used RPN calculators.
posted by Argyle at 9:20 AM on June 23, 2004

From the site's Screenwriting section:

HANDYMAN - A retired secret agent, declared dead in Vietnam 30 years ago, having to forsake all family ties, bides his time 'fixing things'. He is discovered to be a vigilante by an LA detective and must unwillingly reveal his secret past in order to save Hollywood from terrorists using off-the-shelf WMD.

Somebody get this man an agent!
posted by shotsy at 11:38 AM on June 23, 2004

Reminds me of something I heard a comic say once:

My uncle was one of those slide-rule guys. I'd be using a calculator and he'd come up with his slide rule and say, "This slide rule can do anything that calculator can do." So I spelled out SHELLOIL.
posted by MrBadExample at 10:02 PM on June 23, 2004

ok, so this link forced me to finally find out how one of these things work and i must admit my brain is now officially broken. I mean, i never realized just how INACCURATE these tools are (ack!).

At my university we had a seriously old 5' long slide rule up on one of the walls in a grad lab, i must admit i was VERY tempted to take it before leaving (don't worry, it's still there).

now if only i could get a copy of mathcad for my palm pilot.
posted by NGnerd at 10:12 PM on June 23, 2004

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