Aaron N. Tubbs bio photo

Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

Twitter Facebook Google+ LinkedIn Github

One of the topics I have discussed at length with Sky is the beauty of old technology, and what a human can do when faced with a problem of utmost importance. Some great examples are innovations that came out of the US nuclear program, or the space race (a war in its own right).

I think my favorite example of this is the Sprint Missile, designed to be a last-hope response system used in conjunction with Spartan to destroy incoming reentry vehicles. Realizing the engineering to be a military problem of national security and survival, the engineers developed a missile capable of sustained 100g acceleration, with the added bonus of surpassing supersonic velocity before fully leaving the launch tube. Reaching Mach 10 in under 5 seconds was an amazing feat in and of itself, but this ignores the technical challenges of low-altitude air friction, control surfaces, and a control system robust and fast enough to keep the missile to task. This ignores the warhead design and the supporting autonomous self-contained (nuclear powered) radar and launch system itself…

My point is not to wax poetic about the cold war, but to point out the sort of innovation and ingenuity that comes about when humans are thinking and engineering at their limits. This ancient 30-plus year-old program is still far more advanced and realistic than any missile defense system we’re funding these days, and it was actually operational.

My point is that there is a sense of awe and amazement that comes about when people are doing real engineering and solving real problems.

In any event, Sky and I have talked at length about this sort of thing, and one of the topics we came to in the past was my admiration for the slide rule. A simple analog device, it provided the only assistance utilized by most of the early nuclear physics work. So simple-looking a device thus holds great fascination for me, as it was the way we solved hard math problems in short order before we had computers and hand-held calculators (Los Alamos, during the early nuclear weapons development, eventually started using a variety of “handheld” calculator that Feynman was famous for servicing).

Sky apparently listened to my rambling, and happened to gift to me a slide rule that belonged to his father, who passed away a few weeks ago. It is a thing of beauty:

It’s apparent the rule has been dropped at least once, and either the inner rule was extended when this happened, or it was mauled by being re-inserted without being square:

This hardly impacts its functionality, however. Like a good general-purpose ruler, the engineers behind it realzied the ends were most vulnerable to damage, and therefore provided a buffer before beginning the useful region of the device.

While I am still quite unfamiliar with its use, the following tells me that 2 times 3 is 6: