Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A Slide Rule Life Lesson

As a quiet young high school student, I had all the personality traits of a nerd, but lacked the mental horsepower to lay claim to the moniker. Siting in a class room, I found myself staring in horror at a gigantic model of a slide rule. Keuffel and Ester was the intimidating logo plastered on the mysterious looking device. Numbers on scales that moved laterally as the thing was expanded. I could not make heads or tails of it.

"Looks like a warning not to take physics class," I muttered to myself  under my breath. Mr. Green, a beloved teacher overheard my mumblings and immediately disagreed. "You can learn how to do calculations with a slide rule if you put your mind to it. Anything worth while is worthy of your time and effort."

Mr.  Green was one of my very best teachers. The concept of being a life long learner had yet to be recognized, but whatever the notion was called back then came through clearly in his lessons. He really was interested in my answers to physics problems and made tests interesting with references to Red Ryder BB guns and bowling ball pendulums.

To study waveforms, Mr. Green constructed home made ripple tanks and I spent more time admiring the elegant simplicity of his creation than learning about waves. The time and effort he invested in making physics interesting communicated the importance of learning. It's amazing how much easier it is to learn when the importance of the subject matter is recognized.

Yes, I did learn how to use that intimidating looking slide rule and can still recall the "C" scale is on the slide and the "D" scale is on the body....I think. At least my long term memory is clear as a bell, now if I can only recall what I ate for lunch. That's a post for another day.

In nursing school calculating dosages and solutions required lots of multiplication and division. I resurrected my old trusty slide rule and even taught a few of my classmates how to use it. They were impressed with my lickety-split calculations, but the real thanks belonged to Mr. Green.

Working from multiple instrument trays as a scrub nurse could really get my dander up, but I always thought of Mr. Green and reminded myself that I could learn how to manage the task, after all, I was able to master that blasted slide rule. Thanks, Mr. Green


  1. My Dad was an engineer for Ford Motor Company. He used a slide rule daily at work. But he could do calculations in his head, and once I heard him talking in his sleep - I swear I'm not making this up - doing math problems. Anyway, I still have his slide rule. It is a total mystery to me.

  2. I knew how to use one at one time, but doubt that I would remember now. I totally related to your opening premise, "I had all the personality traits of a nerd, but lacked the mental horsepower". I think I may have overcome my social ineptness to a point too, but not completely. We all need more Mr. Greens in our formative years.

  3. Officer Cynical, maybe it's my advanced age, but somehow I would feel more secure driving one of those blue oval cars engineered by your Dad than these modern computer cars. Slide rules cannot be hacked.

    Jono, There is truth to that old adage that "nurses eat their young," and the operating room was a great feeding area. Nerds undergo a rapid metamorphis in this environment. It's a matter of survival. I think I wound up as a blowhard with the heart of a nerd. I was always worried about doing my best for patients.