"Anyone who can't use a slide rule is a cultural illiterate and should not be allowed to vote."
From the novel
Have Space Suit  Will
Travel
by Robert A. Heinlein
I have always enjoyed math, even though it has not always come easy for me. When I was in the sixth grade, my mother threatened to hold me back a year because I had a hard time grasping fractions. Even today I still have to think my way through them. At the end of my seventh grade year I was promoted to the advanced math program. I was stunned when they did this because I never considered myself very good with math, especially after dealing with fractions. I continued in the advanced math program until high school trigonometry. Instead of our normal math teacher teaching trig, it was taught by a college student who had never taught a class in his life. He taught my trig class as if it were a college level class and lost me very quickly. This resulted in me flunking trig. My confidence was broken and I never took another math class while in high school. Later, when I had an opportunity to attend college, I was required to take some basic math classes, including the dreaded trigonometry. This time I passed. With renewed confidence I continued to take more math classes simply to learn more, not to mention the fact that I enjoyed them. I maintained a solid ‘B’ average in my math classes and only flunked one other math class – first semester differential equations. I had to take that dumb class three times before I got a passing grade in it.
I bought my first slide rule when I was in the ninth grade. The scientific calculator was booming and the era of the slide rule was dying. I knew I wanted a slide rule but by this time (1975) they were hard to find. I purchased the only slide rule I could find – a Sterling plastic Duplex Decitrig Log Log. I bought it at a local drug store in Roy, Utah. It included a very concise instruction pamphlet that was very hard for me to understand. I learned how to read the scales and to multiply and divide, but nothing more. I wanted to really learn how to use it but was frustrated by the poor instructions it came with. A year later a bought my first calculator, a Texas Instruments TI30 Slide Rule Calculator, and my slide rule disappeared into my desk drawer. Every now and then I would pull it out and look at it, wishing I knew how to use it. I would do a few multiplications with it just so I wouldn’t forget entirely how to use it. Yup, two time three still equals six!
With the purchase of my TI30 calculator, I became enamored of the calculator. All us nerds at school took great pride in wearing a calculator hanging off of our belts. We might have looked silly, but it gave us solidarity against the school jocks. The next year I bought my first programmable calculator. It also was a Texas Instruments but I don’t remember the model number. I enjoyed learning how to program it but was frustrated with the fact that every time you turned off the calculator the memory was wiped and you had to rekey in the program. That was when I first learned about the Hewlett Packard HP67 calculator. The programs were recorded on small magnetic cards. By running the card through a small slot on the side of the calculator, the programs and/or data was reloaded back into the calculator. The HP67 was an expensive calculator, around $350. I sold my programmable TI calculator and took out my first loan to purchase the HP67 along with the Math Pac and Games Pac of programs. I still have my HP67. It no longer works, but I’ll never get rid of it. A few years later I purchased the classic HP41cx calculator. This calculator had two advantages over the HP67 – first, the memory was not wiped when you turned the calculator off and second, the programs came burned on small cartridges which fit into small slots in the top of the calculator. You could also add a printer , a card reader, or a barcode reader to the calculator. Today I use an HP32sII scientific calculator and an HP48sx graphics calculator and also run the program Mathematica on my computer.
For the last few years, my wife has been buying me mathematical throwbacks for Christmas presents. One year she gave me a Rubik’s Cube and recently she gave me a slide rule which she bought on eBay. It was a plastic Pickett Microline 140, very similar to my Sterling slide rule. It is a much nicer slide rule than my Sterling however and includes a well written instruction book on how to use it. I started learning how to use the slide rule for the first time and have become fascinated by how powerful and fun they really are. I started visiting slide rule websites and joined a slide rule discussion group at YahooGroups. I have purchased several slide rules on eBay as well as at local yard sales, including a K&E Decilon. My favorite slide rules are the Picketts and my current favorite slide rule is a Pickett N803ES.
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Background image taken from a scan
of my Pickett N803ES slide rule.
The image was lightened up and the contrast was greatly reduced