The bad old days

Discussion in 'Math' started by someonesdad, Jan 13, 2011.

  1. someonesdad

    Thread Starter Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    I wrote this a while back, then forgot about it. Some of you geezers will remember this stuff and some of you younger folks might want to do some calculations without a calculator or computer -- I guarantee it will make you appreciate these electronic tools a bit more. :p
     
  2. Georacer

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    Nov 25, 2009
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    My father told me that he was taugh on logarithmic tables. I have never seen one and only 30 years have passed. Technology is sure accelerating fast and I 'm glad to see that education is trying to keep up.
     
  3. Adjuster

    Well-Known Member

    Dec 26, 2010
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    This makes me feel very, very old. I don't have to look back to my father's generation for log tables or slide rules. I was a student at a time when calculators were just becoming easily affordable, and well remember that there was a lot of argument over whether they should be allowed to be used for school or examination work. They were just being accepted around the time when I was finishing my studies. I remember going into my final exams with a LED display calculator strapped to a large 9V battery, as its internal PP3 battery could not be trusted to last long enough.

    It seems such a short while ago ago that I felt scornful of older people who doubted the advantages of what was new at that time. Now its my turn to feel nostalgic: no doubt some young fellows will be laughing up their sleeves at my old-fashioned ideas. Right now a large slice of technology is passing into history, with analog(ue) television going and AM/FM broadcast radio soon to follow - I think that I will miss it.
     
  4. bertus

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  5. someonesdad

    Thread Starter Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    It's difficult to explain to a young person the joy a calculator brought 35 years ago or so, freeing you from mindless arithmetic manipulations. Those of us who went through college and did all the typical engineering/scientific-type numerical work with tables and slide rules remember what dull drudgery that was (and never want to go back to it!). They (and the computers that followed) changed the complexity of problems that an individual was able to tackle.

    One thing people no longer have is the ability to quickly do numerical calculations to a few significant figures quickly. This is because the people practicing the calculations got very good at recognizing patterns and remembering certain things. Feynman talks about this in is book "Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman" and he commented about people like Bethe who were expert calculators (Feynman was no slouch himself).

    Another skill that has been lost is the ability to quickly hand-draw graphs and charts. Back then, that's the only choice you had, so you learned to do it pretty quickly. It was no big deal to grab a piece of engineering paper and sketch a graph from 10-30 points. Nowadays, most students would probably look at you with deer-in-the-headlights eyes if you asked them to do that. And if you worked at a good company, the lab stock folks would have all kinds of graph paper stocked for you to help you make graphs. I still have a bunch of K&E semilog and log-log paper and occasionally get it out and use it. Such plotting gives you an intimacy with the data that computer tools can't.

    Oh, one other technique that doesn't seem terribly well-known: probability plotting. If you gather experimental data and analyze it, make some probability plots with it -- they're easy and informative (I used to do a lot of this because I was working with reliability data). There was a good book on this topic by a guy name King, if I recall correctly, and published by TEAM.

    Remember, you do all this stuff to help you make good decisions, regardless of the tools you use. :p
     
  6. Robin Mitchell

    Well-Known Member

    Oct 25, 2009
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    i have a machinary hands book that has all the trig functions, log tables and squares, its awsome
     
  7. Clay

    Member

    Feb 12, 2010
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    Thanks for the post. I still use my log,log,duplex slide rule, ha!
    Handy in the darkroom for ratios.
    Best regards,
    /Clay
     
  8. Tesla23

    Active Member

    May 10, 2009
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    The Feynman reference reminded me of the story:

    The process of orbit determination is fairly taken for granted today. During the effort to launch America's first artificial Earth satellites, the JPL craft Explorers 1 and 2, a room-sized IBM computer was employed to figure a new satellite's trajectory using Doppler data acquired from Cape Canaveral and a few other tracking sites. The late Caltech physics professor Richard Feynman was asked to come to the Lab and assist with difficulties encountered in processing the data. He accomplished all of the calculations by hand, revealing the fact that Explorer 2 had failed to achieve orbit and had come down in the Atlantic ocean. The IBM mainframe was eventually coaxed to reach the same result, hours after Professor Feynman had departed for the weekend.

    From http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/basics/bsf13-1.php
     
  9. Georacer

    Moderator

    Nov 25, 2009
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    I guess that was the point just before Deep Blue beat Gary Gasparov. Afterwards the computers established their prowess in calculations.
     
  10. someonesdad

    Thread Starter Senior Member

    Jul 7, 2009
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    Uh, you're a few decades off... :p
     
  11. Wendy

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    Mar 24, 2008
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    Deep Blue is a case of slow steady improvement, and it was as much software as hardware.

    I was watching a show about the first Apollo moon landing, the one where the primitive computer glitched out. Looking at it with hindsight it was a checklist sequence error, they turned the computer on too soon. This is how we learn, though I suspect the astronauts were too happy with the lesson at the time.
     
  12. Georacer

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    It was a parallelism on computational prowess between chess and space exploration, actually.
     
  13. Wendy

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    Mar 24, 2008
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    Thing is, Deep Blue was around 1996, long after computers had reached a stage where they were pretty reliable for things like orbital calculations. I was cranking away on my TRS80 in 1978. I always did love it when the computer added 2+2 and got 3.99999998. The Commodore's did it too.

    We managed things like the Pioneer space probe, Viking, and a lot more long before Big Blue. I was getting my butt whupped by computers in the late 70's. I'm no master, but I'm not the worst player either. Chess is actually pretty easy, everything can be described on a 8X8 board. The real challenges are the world.

    It does create awe for me how NASA was able to do the Apollo moon landings with the tools at their disposal. There were primitive mainframes, but still.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2011
  14. thatoneguy

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 19, 2009
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    Same here. Moon landings and re-entries by slide rule, lives at stake, and no do-overs.

    Computing Power and Materials Science are now into the "sci-fi" realm of the 50's, yet we couldn't put another man on the moon in 7 years. :(
     
  15. Wendy

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  16. thatoneguy

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 19, 2009
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    That was basically my point, though I didn't want to delve into the political side.

    Most people don't realize the sheer spectrum of products that were spin-offs of space programs. Gorilla Glass, Teflon etc are well known, but radiation hardening methods and other 'insignificant' bits of knowledge in all areas have put us where we are today. Stopping the research is silly.
     
  17. tyblu

    Member

    Nov 29, 2010
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    Guess we have to count on Zefram Cochrane to reinvigorate popular interest in space flight.
     
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