The Watering Hole: December 23 – Slide Rules

Back in the days before electronic slide rules did not exist, engineers and physical scientist relied on a primative device called the slide rule. . This device did not have any buttons and no batteries to run down.

A good slide rule could replace many mechanical devices including the adding machine and the Spirule for root locus diagramming.

Slide rule accuracy was an issue during WW II where artillery forces and navigation were crucial. The Norton bomb-sight was actually a combination of three slide rules with two directional velocity sensors and a gradient calculator. I am aware of slide rules lengths of 72 inches used for airfoil design.

The slide rule is based on Euler’s work with logarithms.

Today, the common slide rule is but a fading memory, but it was used by people vibrantly alive today in their daily work.

This is our Open Thread. Please feel free to add your thoughts on this, or any other topic that comes to mind.

73 thoughts on “The Watering Hole: December 23 – Slide Rules

  1. A slide rule requires the use of a persons ability to anticipate and conceptualize the outcome of the data being crunched.

    The calculator has its place but you have to know when its lying to you.
    Hence the birth of “garbage in garbage out”.

    These themes carryover into other aspects of life that that I will not elaborate on due to blood pressure issues.

  2. Remember being taught slide-rule basics in high school. Other cool tools were micrometer and vernier caliper.

    Actually came across slide rule in attic last week. Put it back in box for another 40 years.

  3. Micrometers are still in daily use in machine work. Vernier calipers have been replaced by dial and digital calipers. Vernier height gages have also been replaced by digital.

  4. Somewhere I have my dad’s old slide rule–it’s quite an amazing tool, though as vinylspear said, it requires having at least an idea of what the final answer should be. I never learned how to use one, myself. We already had calculators by the time I needed a device. πŸ˜‰

    Yay! Last day at work then I’m off til Monday. And today is our ‘not party’. As in “We’re not having a party, there just happens to be a lot of food and stuff”. πŸ™‚

  5. Learned a new term this morning.
    External Left: Folks that don’t identify themselves as Democrats but vote Democrat.

    I’m not drinking the kool-aid on how ‘Obama’s got his mojo back’.

    A lot of backroom deals and vote-trading went into getting these bills passed. The 9/11 first responders bill went from a ten year, $8.4 billion dollar deal, funded by eliminating a tax loophole on multinational corporations, to a $4.3 billion dollar, 5 year deal, funded by a excise fee on foreign companies that receive US government contracts. This may have enabled the START treaty to be ratified also. DADT may have been enabled by the changes to the tax cut deal that allowed the wealthy to keep their unneeded tax cuts. Common sense should have passed most of these bills independently, but the Republicans’ strategy of saying no to everything paid off when the clock was running out on the Dem majorities. They got a lot of concessions in return for trading things that should have been passed by unanimous consent. There was nothing the Dems could give up to get the DREAM act passed, so it died.

  6. My old slide rule is m.i.a., unfortunately. How I wish I still had it! I bought it new — my first really good one — in the early fall of 1962. Can’t remember the brand anymore, but it came in fine leather case and dangled from the belt in much the same fashion as today’s phone contraptions, although it was substantially larger. Kinda more like an OK Corral holster than a hand held version of Dick Tracy’s wrist radio. But it got the job done, and its accuracy seemed almost uncanny once one figured out and learned to use the thing to its best advantage. My chemistry prof that year said his rules were to “never do it longhand when you have a slide rule, never use a slide rule when you have a calculator, and never use a calculator when you have a computer. Of course, in those days a computer that couldn’t do what today’s laptop can easily handle typically required an entire building to house it in, and a decent calculator took up a third of a desk’s top, so slide rules remained the tool of choice.

    Those were good times!

  7. No Thinkfast this morning, so I guess we’re on the TP holiday posting diet until Monday.

    It would be nice if Wikileaks would release a big pile of documents to the European newspapers so we could have interesting news while Congress is on break. Right now, all we can do is speculate whether Harry Reid will change the filibuster rules in a meaningful way, when they return.

  8. Amazing how Republicans will cave on their “principled stand” on social issues, once the rich are given more money.

    On the other hand, Republicans are good at blaming these same social issues as the cause of the downfall of America, and they’re not being countered in the “liberal” media with the fact that the disparity in wealth is the true culprit.

  9. Slide Rule. Wonderful tool. Sometimes I wish I still had mine but it got lost in one of the many moves since high school. Today, I would have to carry a large magnifying glass or a slide rule the size of a coffee table.

  10. I have three slide rules if someone wants them, all formerly my dad’s. Two basic slide rules (one with a magnifying slider) and one that is so complicated I don’t remember (or can interpret) the functions. All are K&E, two are in leather cases. One of them is hold enough that K&E is spelled out as Keuffel & Esser. They’ve been looking for a good home for several years, since my parents moved out of their house.

    No cost, of course. Just let me know where to ship them.

  11. My slide rule is buried in the back room some place. Been a long time since I took it out to multiply two numbers together.

    They got a lot of concessions in return for trading things that should have been passed by unanimous consent.

    House, what galls me is that some of those things ended up passing in the Senate by unanimous consent anyway (after being watered down by pointless Republican opposition.)

    As we all know, the Truth is the Republicans’ biggest enemy. I hope that when the Congress convenes, the Senate passes rules to:

    A) Limit filibusters (by making Senators actually take to the floor the way Bernie Sanders did and talk, and if they can’t persuade their colleagues not to vote for the bill, they should accept their defeat and move on);

    B) Take away the rule allowing Senators to object to bills proceeding in the Senate (but do allow for a one-time, maybe twice, two week delay; sometimes Senators genuinely need time to look into something), but any such rule would not be available in the last two weeks before the Congressional term ends (or else Republicans will put a hold on EVERYTHING on account of they are unprincipled); and

    C) Require Senators to give fact-based reasons for objecting to anything in the Senate. Senators caught lying will have their right to object suspended (for a time). Senators must also be personally present to object to things, and not be allowed to have someone else object on their behalf. Objections must be immediately defended, and the absence of any Senator who is not a co-sponsor of the bill in question will not be an acceptable excuse.

    There are other changes I would require (such as Republicans being required to wear orange jumpsuits like the criminals they truly are), but I can be satisfied with these changes.

  12. On MSNBC, they’re interviewing Evan Kohlmann about recent bombings. I was only half-paying attention when I heard him say, “…mail package bombs…” I started laughing hysterically because I thought he was saying “…male package bombs…”. What? Bombs shaped like penises?

  13. Wayne: re the orange jumpsuits. They need their corporate sponsor patches sewn on with their primary sponsors on the chest and back, just like the racers do. The associate sponsors could be on the shoulders, and other less prominently displayed places.

    The one thing that really got me on the filibuster/secret hold issue, is every session of the Senate, they had to ask for unanimous consent to hold hearings or committee meetings all day. If it wasn’t agreed to, meetings had to end at 2:00pm.

    The only time a filibuster is even remotely appropriate, is to delay final passage of a bill when there is real debate still in progress, never to obstruct daily business or committee work.

  14. Wayne, in regards to your MPB comment, back when I was in Italy one of the hot souvenir items was a little pewter dingus for hanging on your keychain. It was called a Flying Cock-n-balls. Now I have to go find it and make sure it isn’t a bomb with a reallllllly long time delay.

  15. I’ve my dad’s K&E 4081 Log Log Duplex Decitrig right here on my desk: the complete kit actually, including manual and characteristic orange sheath. This picture (not of mine) is nevertheless representative:

  16. Gary, that’s where my slide rule came from. My dad never graduated high school (got his GED while in the Army) and he could make a slide rule dance and sing. I learned the basics and gave a sigh of relief when calculators became affordable.

  17. Slow day over at TP I see. Must be down to a skeleton crew due to folks taking days off for the holidays.

    I was pretty much of the calculator generation. In college, I took a course called “Trigonometry With Calculators.” It was a new experimental course they were trying. Otherwise calculators were still forbidden during exams and stuff.

    My dad was a slide-rule user, and I recall seeing it in the desk draw. I learned a few basic things with it, but I certainly never mastered it.

  18. I still have a VCR, that I use to convert video onto DVDs. Unless an employer puts a HAAS cnc mill in my garage (when I get around to building it), I won’t be working from home. I’ve yet to pay for anything online, and don’t have any useful information within my computer. So I guess I’m old too.

  19. #8 is a little ironic, actually, since hand-held GPS devices are soon to be obsolete. I hope no one here has stock in Garmin.

    #17? I wish someone would get this message out. I still get tons of catalogs and advertising flyers in my mailbox.

  20. Yep, that’s what my slide rule was: a K&E. It was a work of art.

    If anyone missed Rachel’s show last night, I strongly recommend it — one of her best. Journalism in a world which spits on journalism. Hard to imagine anymore. She’s as good as they come these days. Reminds me of Ed Murrow in numbers of ways. Joe McCarthy wouldn’t like her any better than he liked Ed — which was far less than not at all, for anyone who might recall their confrontation.

  21. Otherwise calculators were still forbidden during exams and stuff.


    I was stunned to learn that my niece and nephew were required to buy calculators for their high school math classes. And not just any calculators, but printing calculators, which they had to use while taking the tests! You and I would have been expelled for doing something like that.

    I’m no expert on teaching, but I truly think it’s counter-productive, possibly even destructive, to not teach students how to do things mathematically without the use of calculators. Trig tables are one thing, but you still have to know how to use them. Being able to stick your question into a programmable calculator (which many are today) and spit out an answer doesn’t teach you why you get the answer you get.

  22. Yes, Hooda, have that one too. Very well done. We’ve also located some of the original Murrow v. McCarthy TV confrontations which really tell the tale, on DVD via Netflix. Good stuff. McCarthy was nutty and hate-filled enough to be one of today’s Republicans — not an easy job, but he was up to snuff, definitely. And guaranteed, he’d follow the Republican mantra today and would NEVER appear on either Rachel or Olbermann, because he’d know he’d be carrying his ass home in a bag if he did. Just as he did in the early fifties, thanks to Ed Murrow.

    Thanks for the links, Muse. After I finish getting the leg of lamb seasoned and ready to wait for the Christmas oven, undisturbed and in the chiller, I’ll read the links.

  23. I use a slide rule about as well as I use a compass.

    Zooey, I don’t ever remember not having a compass – it was one of our ‘toys’ as a kid.
    Oh, and it was Mum who showed us the ways of a slide rule! She was mathematical inclined. One of those people who could do calculations without pencil and paper! (no, that gene never made it my way).

  24. One of those people who could do calculations without pencil and paper!

    I’m one of those weirdos who can do math quickly in my head. I can teach you some easy tricks I learned while keeping score bowling.

    For example, if you need to multiply by nine, don’t bother. Think of 9 as 10-1 (ten minus one.) Then multiply your number by ten and subtract one times the number. Much, much easier to do. (Similarly, 8 can be though of as 10-2.) So, if you find you need to multiply 17 by 9, think of it as 170-17=153. So much easier to do in one’s head when approached that way.

  25. WHOOHOO! Gots me new chair! And the kids are proud of me. I sent the old one off to be recycled. (I have a couch on the front porch I bought in 1980 and can’t seem to part with)

  26. Congrats, Hooda, and Merry Christmas to you! πŸ˜†

    I wish I could get a decent recliner that I would find comfortable. Unfortunately, I am taller than average (six feet), and we’d have to get a really big recliner . But our living room wouldn’t be big enough to open it up fully. And, of course, the cats would just destroy it inside a year anyway, as they have done with all of our furniture.

  27. Wayne, I’m 6′ 1 1/2″ and my feet hang over a bit. And I’ve found the new recliner slide in such a way as they don’t take up a whole lot more space. The cat thing, you would be on your own, buddy. Either declaw them, invest in steel mesh mittens or consider fish as a pet. πŸ™‚

  28. Hooda: “Leg o lamb. Never had it but have always wondered.”

    I’ll let you know. I’ve done them in years past, but not for at least fifteen of them (years). We’re doing it this year because my son-in-law mentioned once that it was his family’s Christmas tradition. He was born in central Mexico, Guanajuato, so it probably reaches way back that way. Anyway, I have it seasoned and ready to go (crushed garlic/salt/fresh Rosemary stuffed into knife slits in the meat, followed by a Dijon Mustard rub). It’ll be waiting in its baking pan, covered with foil, and on a bed of ice in an ice chest in our walk-in cold room (the garage) till it’s time to roast it. The garlic/salt/rosemary seasoning and the Dijon rub should have plenty of time to spread and permeate.

    We’ll roast it to perfection, then lay it atop a bed of fresh (Minnesota, of course) wild rice Christmas ‘stuffing’ for serving. Might make some gravy from the scraps that are left. Roasted yams and broccoli on the side. Hope it works as well as it sounds like it oughta!

  29. frugal, since my kids all have to deal with other plans for Xmas, can I come to your house? I’d bring some nice beets for roasting. πŸ˜‰

  30. hooda, I’m confused. Did you write that you’ve never had leg of lamb?

    No reason why ground lamb wouldn’t work as well as ground pork, provided the spices are appropriate. Ground lamb by itself isn’t terribly interesting. I’ve had really good lamb sausages, however, usually with some take on Middle Eastern seasonings, or a particularly good Moroccan version.

  31. gummitch, having lived most of my life in central Wi, we don’t have what you would call a strong Mediterranean influence. I’ve had lamb chops once. And lamb meatballs, the same. The reason I ask about the stuffing is I’m not familiar enough with the seasoning to know if it would work well with turkey. My usual stuffing is either cornbread/sausage/pecan or oyster.

  32. Got to leave work early today. My boss came by and said “we’re letting everyone go at 2:30 today in case you hadn’t heard.” I asked “by letting go do you mean going home early, or…” He laughed (as it’s the kind of thing I would ask.)

    In this economic climate, you can never be too sure.

    Anyway, off until Tuesday. πŸ™‚

  33. frugal, it is tempting on so many levels. I would dearly love to sit back with you and your lady, imbibe and talk while waiting for the lamb. Maybe next year.

  34. This from Defenders of Wildlife today. Makes me sick, is an outrage.

    Wildlife Services is at it again: The federal wildlife killers are once again seeking authority to kill more wolves in Central Idaho using aerial gunning.

    This terrible aerial gunning plan could kill hundreds of wolves in the area — all to help state officials artificially boost elk populations so that hunters can more easily kill them.

    Idaho officials are claiming that wolves are the major cause of elk declines in parts of the state. But in 23 of the 29 elk management zones, populations of these animals are at or above population targets — many of the areas experiencing declines in elk numbers contain few or no wolves.

    And the Clearwater National Forest — one of the areas targeted by Wildlife Services’ aerial gunning plan — was experiencing steep declines in elk numbers by 1988, long before wolves returned to the area.

    But state officials are calling in Wildlife Services, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to exterminate entire wolf packs from the skies to artificially boost game populations – even as wolves remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.

    Earlier this year, thanks to the support of tens of thousands of Defenders supporters, Wildlife Services pulled back an earlier plan seeking to gas helpless wolf pups in their dens and surgically sterilize alpha wolf pairs.

    But Wildlife Services’ current wolf-killing plan still allows aerial gunning and seeks to punish wolves for doing what they do naturally: preying on elk and fulfilling their ecological role as part of a natural system. Science tells us that predator population levels are naturally maintained by their prey population levels — almost never the other way around.

    Wildlife Services should certainly not be in the business of artificially boosting game populations. They should be fulfilling their mission to “create a balance that allows people and wildlife to coexist peacefully.” Instead, Wildlife Services wants to expand their role as the federal government’s wildlife hitmen.

    Thanks for all you do to protect our wildlife and wild places.


    Rodger Schlickeisen
    Defenders of Wildlife

    If anyone cares to respond, to ask those in authority to employ some common sense on the matter, it’s quick and easy.

    • frugal,

      I used to live in Clearwater County, and if the elk are in decline, it’s probably due to poachers. There aren’t enough wolves in the area to have a noticeable effect on elk populations.

      People in Idaho just get their rocks off by killing things.

  35. Grats on the new chair Hooda. πŸ™‚

    ebb, we already had tomorrow off, and I chose to take money off. But still 4 hours of “extra” time off is still always welcome. One of the few things I enjoy about the place. (That and I can surf the web fairly freely during the day.) πŸ™‚

  36. Tanks, zxbe.

    Frugal, next spring, late. I’ll be due for a nice road trip and have always wanted to head off towards the 4 corners region. Last I checked, I had to go thru CO to get there.

  37. hooda, I was figuring you were from the Midwest, where there appears to be an ingrained horror of lamb. My sister was in a sorority house in Ohio where lamb was occasionally on the Sunday menu; she loved it because she could count on eating the whole thing by herself.

    Personally, I would stick with your basic dressing approaches. Although it could be done by an artful chef, matching it with turkey seems extremely dubious to me, and I’m a huge fan of the meat. Costco (at least here) carries boneless Australian leg, very tender and dirt cheap. I cut ’em up, marinate in lemon juice, olive oil, wine and seasonings and turn them into kebabs, throughout the summer.

  38. Gummitch, I’m not so sure it’s an ingrained horror. More of a central and east European population. Sausage, cheese, potatoes and lots of other pretty bland stuff. I think I will go with the oyster stuffing and maybe some lamb meatballs with yogurt cucumbers and nuts as one of the sides.

  39. “lamb meatballs with yogurt cucumbers and nuts as one of the sides.”

    A side dish? – serve some couscous or rice and that’s dinner! Lamb is sooooo delicious no matter the form!

  40. I’ve often done lamb chops basted in a white wine/dijon mustard mix. Right now, in the freezer, I have some good basic lamb stew that I made a couple of days ago.

    The first time I made lamb stew, several months ago, I cried when I smelled it – I hadn’t had lamb stew since LONG before mum died, and the aroma brought me right back to the old kitchen table back home.

  41. I’ve used Kielbasa, sans casings, in my stuffing instead of sausage. The recipe can be scaled down or split up and frozen. The flavor is much less invasive than sausage. The mixture also is great for lasagna instead of Italian sausage.

    With the new scientific and statistic calculators, my greatest problem is reading the instructions that accompany them. I can usually download those from the manufacturer’s site on the web.

  42. Hooda, yeah, it’s kinda tricky to visit the Four Corners and avoid Colorado! It’s on the opposite side of the Rockies, of course, from where we are, but the road a block away will get you to either or both of the major highways, both of which head to Cortez, and than an hour or so from there, you’re there. And the Dinetah sprawls forward from that spot, in all directions. Beautiful country in it’s own way. Harsh, but sculpted. Ancient, but fresh. A thousand years ago, the land of the Anasazi and Sinagua. Today the Navajo and Hopi. Ruins abound, the land absorbs them, keeps them. Fascinating place, that corner of the world. Don’t miss Mesa Verde — set a day aside for the ruins, and a night at the Far View Lodge. Unforgettable.

    Keep me posted of your plans.

  43. Zooey: Wolves actually HELP elk populations. The kill and eat the sickly ones, the frail ones, and strengthen the genetics of the herd in the process. For wolves to diminish elk populations would be a dumb thing for them to do, and they know it; and wolves are NOT stupid!

    Humans are stupid: they kill the strongest and biggest, most vibrant elk (it’s a ‘real man’ thing), and they leave the sick, the frail, for …. whatever. Hunters are too dumb to understand, or care.

    Aldo Leopold was once a federal wolf hunter, and worked hard to exterminate the wolves in E. Arizona and W. New Mexico in the twenties and thirties. He finally figured things out, and changed his views 180 degrees. As he noted in his “Sand County Almanac”:

    “We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes — something known only to her and the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, then no wolves would mean a hunter’s paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”


    “Only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf.”

    He was right. Esp. about the “trigger-itch”, a malady from which so many more suffer today than in Leopold’s day.

    The idiocy is SO tiring.

  44. Cool. My son just got a call from his ‘other’ dad. We have about 100# of venison coming. There is so going to be a monster batch of chili for New Years.

  45. gummy,
    Sausage is that stuff that is about ⅔ fat and taste like pure fat and sage plus other additives to make it more nearly palatable. Kielbasa is actually a wurst and contains much less fat than sausage when prepared by traditional methods. It can also be boiled in its casing which is mot possible with sausage (Unless you enjoy boiled fat).

  46. I made whoopi pies and red velvet cake today. Tomorrow I’m cooking linguini in white clam sauce and osso bucco hopefully with some polenta. I’m too old for Christmas. Did I say that already?

  47. Walt, wurst – sausage. There are fresh sausage, cooked sausage, smoked sausage… the word itself only means “ground meat + spice in casing” (or not in casing, if it’s bulk sausage). Even “kielbasa” is a fairly generic term for a number of eastern european sausages that can be fresh, smoked, or dried. Most of the time, here, it refers to a specific Polish variant but even that has a lot of room to move (as sausage does, in general).

    Sausage is even more universal to human culture than the dumpling, which requires the invention/acceptance of the noodle. It is, IMO, one of the enduring accomplishments of the human race.

  48. Shayne,
    Apparently not.

    To rephrase – Jon Stewart has an excellent bit on some Senators’ votes on aid to 9/11 responders and their statements in 2001.

  49. Of course it could be this insane puppy that’s making me feel old.

    Dogs always imitate their masters Shayne. πŸ˜‰

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