Superstition and Slide Rules

Sparse. That’s the best thing about gym, when it occurs. Not many people. For some reason the bullies seem to go away and the good folk remain. Even the weight bouncers about today were good folk. And the cable feed went sowth about halfway through my session so the absence of distraction of the vapid sort was appreciated.

The Guardian science podcast was a set of interviews/discussions with psychologists who specialize in humans who suffer from delusions of alien abductions, vampires, ghosts, and such. There were even a few slights about religionist superstition. Well placed. Sadly there was no real discussion of how to rid society of these nut cases.

But the high point was a National Public Radio podcast about the slide rule.[Link] Sadly, the pony to poo ratio was very LOW. There was some museum curator from the wonk schule on the Charles who was prattling about the slide rule angst among engineer students taking exams. And the whole attitude was rather poor and frivolous.

I have discussed slide rule previously but it is worth visiting again. I got my first slide rule about seven or eight, as I recall. I make this point because by the time I got to college my slide rule, which I could not use openly without derision from the cool kids – the jocks and cheerleaders, was a comfort, not a source of stress. Rather the opposite. It was a familiar tool that I could trust without cognition.

I suppose if I had been handed one as a freshman, never having seen before, and told to learn immediately to crunch numbers there might be some stress. I do not take direction easily. It is evil. But none of the people I knew were uneasy about slide rules. Many of us had brown up with them. In fact, they didn’t bother to teach slide rule in high schule because so many already knew and the ones who didn’t were destined for bogdom anyway.

And I rather take exception to the implication that the slide rule disappeared overnight once the nerd calculator was introduced. Technocratic prevarication! Electronic calculators had been around for years but weighed and bulked their own table. The first portable calculators were strictly add/subtract/multiply/divide so they could not replace the slide rule. The first nerd calculator, the HP-35, introduced in 1972, was a replacement but was so expensive that no student, nor professor, could afford without a gifting. Only corporate nerds could afford them. I was working for the Yankee army before I got a nerd calculator issued me, and HP-55, and it was late in my graduate schule attendance before I could afford a personal machine, a TI that felt like a cheap occupied Japan imitation of an HP. My first personal HP was an HP-25 and it was a marvel and a delight. But I still had a slide rule in my center desk drawer when I retired. For some things it was faster than a calculator. Even an RPN. 

So as usual, NPR vertically copulated.