analog computer – slide rule plus a real life math problem debacle

slide rule w mechanical pencil for scale and leather case

I was rooting around in my miscellaneous keepsake drawer and pulled out this slide rule.  It was a Safety Recognition item from Canadian Bechtel Ltd., my late father’s old company.

I did not use this slide rule but instead a larger one in Grade 12 to solve Boyle’s Law Gas problems in my Chemistry class. That was in 1971.  My teacher, Fr. Donald Beaudois, S. J., offered my class an optonal after school tutorial in how to use a slide rule.  About ten out of 30 students took him up on his offer.  By allowing one to “ignore” the intermediate step in the calculation one could gain speed in getting to the final result.

from Wikipedia:

The mathematical equation for Boyle’s law is:     pV = k      where:

p denotes the pressure of the system.
V denotes the volume of the gas.
k is a constant value representative of the pressure and volume of the system.

Slide rules were developed in the 17th century based on the Logarithm work of John Napier by William Ougthred and others.  By 1974  with consumer-level scientific calculators available, slide rules quickly slipped into the past.

My Grade 12 Chemistry class marked the high water mark of my science education.  I must have paid extra attention that semester because I led the class with a 57 out of 60 on the exam.  I did miserably in math that Fall.  And that year marked my decision to turn from math and science to humanities subjects and I continued that direction in university.  The odd thing was that the following year, in Grade 13, we were given a scholastic aptitude test with three parts,  two English, one math.  I scored in the 99th percentile in both English parts, but surprisingly I managed a 86th percentile in the math portion.  Comparing results with other guys in my class–it was an all boys private high school–it emerged that some guys taking three maths and three sciences had scored as low as the 15th percentile.  Hard to say whether their trouble lay in doing well on scholastic aptitude tests or whether they were fighting an uphill battle and would run into insurmountable difficulties at the university level with math and science.  Several guys from that class went on to earn Ph. D degrees in the sciences. At any rate, I developed a bit of a math phobia around this time.  I believe I still sell short the math capabilities I have in my brain.

Real Life Math Problem Debacle

The one type of real life math use came up around 1980.  The Ontario Ministry of Education Library had a physical move to plan and execute.  I was a lowly clerk there, my second in a thankfully brief civil service career.  The math problem was the placement of the library shelf units.   Somehow I got assigned to figure this out.  Because I had some brains it seemed, I became the go to guy with special projects and problem solving.  The libarians concentrated on labelling and moving the contents of the shelves.  I decided that the equation was the following:

12x +  13y = n

where x equals the width of the 12 shelf units, y will equal the width of the aisle space between shelf units, and n equals the known total distance of the shelf unit area in the reorganization of the library.

Trouble was I trusted my boss when I asked her if all the shelf units were the same width. She said yes. The truth was that several shelf units with reference books, large books, were slightly larger.  Therefore when the movers came in overnight and placedf the shelf units as directed by calculation, we came in the next morning to find the last aisle unocomfortably narrow, which was followed by a solid wall.  My boss demanded an explanation.  I did some measuring and figured out that she had made the error and I had trusted her.  I could have checked the shelf widths, but she was the head librarian and I assumed she knew what she was talking about.   From the point of view of math problem solving I had the right idea, just bad data.

manipulated landscape images

I use Corel Paint Shop Pro X4 to manipulate the images.  I do the following: lower brightness overall, local tone mapping, and fill light clarify.

newsletters – examining my scar tissue and a new paper cut

With over twenty five years slugging away as a technical writer I have worked on newsletters more than a few times.  They are useful in some ways and usually a royal pain in others. If you are unfortunate enough to be the editor of one of these organizational standards you will have found out most people think they are a good idea but would rather die than write for one.  The hunt for content is never-ending and often you as the editor write the whole darn thing.  Skipping article bylines to conceal the singularity of the publication. There is also a moment that comes to all organizations and their newsletter editors: the combination plead/threat speech at a meeting, pleading for anyone to write about anything for the newsletter reinforced by the threat to cease publication.  The executive of volunteer organizations always seem to believe that a newsletter is an important perk to atttact members, so the threat usually does not take place.  Most often another brave soul becomes editor and starts down the familiar trail to disillusionment and another plead/threat.

Recently I was approached by a board member of an Ontario organization and asked to volunteer as a copy editor.  I dodged this for a couple of months and then got another email asking me to step up.  So I blew the dust off my resume, added a few recent tidbits to it and fired it off to the email address of the editor.  Two days later I got a reply thanking me for contacting him but pointing out that there was no copy editor position available. However, they were looking for someone to do final camera ready copy prep using both Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign.

For those not in the desktop publising swim of things these are two pretty standard software packs for DTP that have been adjusted recently to be used also for epub work and other online publicationosity.  By chance my experience was more with Framemaker, another DTP pack.  One more point, these two packs are, in my opinion pricey, together bought new they will set you back just short of two grand.

Back to the newsletter, this is a text and photos mix sent out quarterly  as  a printed product of about 10-12 pages and it is pretty straightforward in layout and design.  It is also terminally dull, tedious and in its favour offers some useful information.  It also has a habitual problem getting some kinds of information correct and up to date.  Given its simple design I am sure I could produce the newsletter easily just using good old MS Word.

So without the products they use in my tool box, I passed on the print prep slot.

It seems to me they are using sophisticated and expensive software that is unnecessary.  It is a little like sitting in the cockpit of a Boeing 767 to drive to the grocery store to get milk .  My advice to them would be to simplify, simplify, simplify and concentrate on their content and getting it accurate.

Broadening the question a little…..

why is anyone still sending out paper printed newsletters?  Why not stop killing trees and save on postage and envelopes and send it out electronically or better still set up a blog?   A quarterly printed newsletter is locked into a schedule and information has to fall in the right time and place to get into an issue and information does not always cooperate.

Blogs force you into a one column design for posts but you can still add photos or even video clips.

Another group puts a lot of energy into formatting a newsletter for just 30 members.  I am trying to persuade them to put that energy into the group’s  blog and the effort will reach many, many more people via the internet.

I have heard the counter argument that it is nice to have a printed copy.  The other jibe is that older folk don’t want to read online, they want to read on paper.  That you can’t force them to change.  There is truth in those points.   Still I see the transition taking place and see it even with the older citizens.    I haven’t seen it yet but I would not be surprised to find an iPad app designed to let you whip up your newsletter into a tablet readable newsletter in seconds.   Although come to think of it, isn’t that what a blog does right now.

breathing life back into my eleven year old iBook

spent some time trying to see if I could find any old photos or other files of interest on my old iBook which I bought back in 2001….without the wifi aircard, and with just a 40 gb hard drive…..a little trouble with the replacement battery not willing to hold a charge and a slightly smecked connector on the power adapter but I got it running and spent some time poking around with files on it.


scanning some old repro slides early logging lumber images

some photos from my scanning volunteer work for the Huronia Museum

Parry Sound from 1869-1929

  • images were photographed on 35mm slide film, Kodachrome and Ektachrome,
  • slides donated to museum in 1996 for the most part,
  • I used Vuescan software to get my 12 year old Epson Perfection 2450 flatbed scanner with transparency light bar to work with Windows 7
  • images taken into Corel Paint Shop Pro x4 for further editing
  • the colour slide film left images with in many instances a dark blue hue which I eliminated by changing to grey scale, that alone made the image seem sharper and with more detail to the eye
  • did some tricks to increase dynamic range trying to get a full black to white range not just a narrow thin range of greys
  • some sharpening
  • in some cases I was able to improve the amount of visible detail
  • hard to say if the repro photography was mixed in quality or the original photo prints were the culprits
  • the earliest shot was from May 1869, some from 1896, some from 1900, 1902 and 1908

new poem – ​A Sudden Change in the Gravitational Pull of the Earth

A Sudden Change in the Gravitational Pull of the Earth

I was thinking today
about those surprise meetings
we all have
bumping into our pasts,
many nothing special,
some pleasant,
3D reminders,
our past that carries us forward
through the present

You and I were at the craft show,
a big one in Toronto,
before Christmas,
you could smell money and stress on the people
brows registering their list of people and the ones
unbought for.

You were hunting gifts
and working as well
looking for designs and vendors,
the high end reno work you did then.
I think I was along to carry packages
and a little company and wearing my
“I is an artist” credentials,
my dog-eared membership card
the one I flash when someone accuses me
of being a Martian.

Round a corner he strolled
and you and I were face to face
with your ex-husband,
more handsome than his photo,
my height and polished,
charming and polite.
We were all polite,
light, casual, carefree.

A whole forty-five seconds.
A pair of Grecian statues and me the tourist.

Then he glided on
and you walked ahead to a booth
then turned to me and said you had to sit down.
You took a breath in like you had just surfaced
from the bootom of the sea.
I scouted a bench in the aisle and took your arm
and steered you over for a crash landing on it

You wouldn’t say much then
just wanting water
which I fetched
and we sat there until your white face
returned to normal.
For once I kept my mouth shut
held onto my usual dozen questions.

On the drive home you explained a little
but what I remember now is how you described
the moment you had seen him last,
before the craft show day.

You asked him how much
it would take to make him leave your life.
He thought about it and told you
and you wrote that down on a cheque
and he picked it up,
folded it and put it in his wallet
and glided out of your life.

And I looked down at your hands
when you told me the story
and they were palms up,
empty and pleading,
trembling just a little,
ready to catch your tears
that did not fall.