Adding up

CALCULATOR

When I was at high school in the second half of the 1960s, I studied, amongst other things, maths, physics, and chemistry. All of these subjects require calculation, sometimes quite complicated. There were no pocket calculators and few computers accessible to schoolkids in those days. 

For complicated calculations, we had to rely on working out the arithmetic with pen and paper, or with tables of logarithms, or using slide rules. Today, you would find it difficult to buy either a table of logarithms or a slide rule. By the way, calculating with the latter required one to make an estimate of the answer to ascertain which power of ten the anser should be. For example, should it be in the hindres, thousands or hundreds of thousands? Also, when making divisions using slide rules, there were almost always two possible answers, only one of which was correct. A rough estimation done on paper or in one’s head, would determine which of these two was the right one. 

If you are getting lost already, stop worrying because this will not get more complicated.

In the late ’60s or early ’70s, pocket electronic calculators entered the market place. At first, they required enormous pockets and pockets filled with money because they were quite expensive. Well, they were certainly beyond my means.

In late 1973, I began working in a laboratory with a view to collecting experimental data to be submited eventually in a PhD thesis. One of the other PhD students in our laboratory came from Kuwait. He would travel there occasionally to visit his family. When he returned from one of his trips home, he brought me a wonderful gift. It was a Casio pocket calculator. Reading this today, you will probably think that was a lousy thing to give, as you can go into shops all over the place and buy a pocket calculator for a very modest price, maybe no more than the cost of a packet of cigarettes. However, when I received my Casio, it was a very precious gift both financially and in terms of labour saving.

And, now one does not even need to buy a calculator because there will be one installed in your mobile telephone. I suppose this is progress. However, progress is a word I do not like to use because in medicine a ‘progressive’ disease is one that continues to get worse, often leading to death.

 

Picture taken at Russell Market in Bangalore, India

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