Sliding Along

I fully admit it.  I can be a math nerd when I want to be.

I’ve always liked mathematics.  I think that each mathematics problem or use of mathematics is like a puzzle to be solved.

I recall in Grade 10, each of us were expected to buy a slide rule.  For the most part, people were buying the cheapy white plastic jobbies.  However, I still recall my math teacher saying that if you’re serious, you should buy the metal one with the adjusting screws and the high definition yellow colour with the very fine thin line for accuracy.  So I did.

One thing that I’m convinced of was that using the slide rule made me a better estimator.  Before using it, you had to mentally estimate what the answer might be to make sure that you were going to be right in your efforts.  Besides, with the various reading lines, you had to make sure that you were reading from the right one.  Estimating the answer in advance was a good double check.

Of course, time moves on – I bought a Radio Shack programmable calculator and an HP RPN Calculator and my slide rule was relegated to the bottom of my drawer.  I just couldn’t make myself throw it away.

It actually came back into a good use years later in the computer science classroom.  It was a computing device, to be sure, but it was also a good example of analog versus digital.

I was in a mathematics conversation the other night away from home and somehow, the conversation turned to slide rules.  If only I could reach into my drawer.  Then, I thought…I’ll bet there’s an app for that.  And I was right.  Not only is there an app, there are lots of apps.  Some actually had some decent prices but I found one for free to play around with.

It’s called Slip Stick.

It even comes with some great instruction about how to use the slide rule on your iPad!

It’s a hoot to play around with.  I don’t think it’s going to get me to walk away from my computer or calculator but it’s still a lot of fun.

If you’re a mathematics person longing for a return to days before electronics, check it out!

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3 thoughts on “Sliding Along”

  1. Hi Doug,
    Although a lot of analog tools lack precision, they have a serious advantage conceptually over digital tools: seeing nearby values or the larger picture.
    The digital watch shows the current time, but the analog watch shows the nearby times, it shows proportionally how far before or after the hour it is, and it shows how far into the half-day it is. “Quarter to seven” makes a lot of sense on an analog watch; not so clear for a digital watch.
    This is also true for trig tables, tape measures, speedometers, and more.
    Does it apply to slide rules? I’ve never used one, so I’m not sure!
    Thanks for another interesting post, Doug. Have a great day!

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  2. That doesn’t make me feel too old, Brandon. They probably stopped using them at the turn of the century. I will admit to being pretty proficient with it at the time.

    I like your thoughts about appreciation for analog. Something to think about. Thanks.

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  3. Slide rules bring back a lot of memories from UofW in the mid-60s. Slide rules helped me master the use of logs and exponents and through them a better estimator of solutions. I still have my K+E and Pickett slide rules.

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