Now that a whole generation has grown up with personal computers at their disposal, many once-necessary skills have become lost arts. For example, I did most of my college computing with a slide rule, and when I reported to work as summer engineer in 1974, General Mills provided me with a circular one. The University of Minnesota had one Wang calculator that students waited in line to use for doing logarithms to more decimals than possible with a slide rule. General Mills bought one Hewlitt-Packard calculator that did logs and exponential calculations using reverse Polish notation
. It was so costly that they bolted it to a table! Nowadays slide rules have become an item for collectors such as fellow U of M alumnus Gary Flom
. Aficionados of slide rules formed the Oughtred Society
name after William Oughtred, an Anglican minister who invented this calculating device in 1622. My father, an engineer like me, owned a really nice Keuffel and Esser (K&E) slide rule. However, from my quick browsing of the internet, it seems that these go for only about $25 -- far less than what one would have paid originally if adjusted to inflation. As reported in The Death of the Slide Rule
by James Redin, the K&E manufactured its last slide rule in 1975 -- the year I achieved my bachelor's degree in chemical engineering.
PS. Another lost art, reported in my Sunday newspaper today by Washington Post writer Margaret Webb Pressler,* is cursive (longhand) writing. She reports that 85 percent of almost 1.5 million students taking their college SAT exams wrote in block letters. Computers have made this style of penmanship obsolete.
*The Handwriting Is on the Wall