Monday, April 25, 2011

Back to the Slide Rule...53 Years Back.

Slide Rule
Slide Rule
The slide rule was, in its day, an amazing tool. In the pre-digital technology era, which by the way was when I went to high school, the slide rule was the defacto method for doing large calculations that couldn't be done by hand.

The slide rule was the tool that separated the mathematically competent from all those who couldn't quite understand the magic of the logarithmic scale.

It's amazing to think of the calculations and achievements that were done on a slide rule. World War II with all the weaponry, airplanes, radar technology, and even the atomic bomb...all developed with the help of the slide rule.

The Trident submarine, the early lasers, and Interstate Highway Program were all developed with the calculations done on slide rules.

The Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo Space Programs by NASA including the trips to the moon were calculated on slide rules

I was going through a vintage 1958 HOLIDAY magazine, and came upon this ad. It appears that a group of busy engineers and architects are engaged in the challenge of building a new urban tower.

Nothing earth-shatteringly new to report on slide rules...obviously, since this ad is 53 years old, but with a trove of vintage magazines at my disposal, I like finding examples of how education indirectly creeps into popular culture.

Here is a slide rule in an advertisement.

The image is clear, a slide rule in the hands of these men creates a smart picture of success. It helps sell brands and creates a whole image.

Today of course, the day of slides rules has passed.  An ad today would feature men with Smart Phones and they probably would have different hair cuts and shirts. But  mastery of the slide rule, in its day, was the height of a certain worldly savoir faire than stank of success and competence.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carbon Paper is Cool!

carbon paper
Carbon Paper is Cool!
When you enter our incredibly high tech offices, you'll find a typewriter ready to use right in the reception area. It's the same typewriter that I used through high school (I graduated from BCC in 1976) and my Dad wrote his doctoral thesis on (awarded in 1962).  Astute observers will notice that I've put in three pieces of paper and that there's a piece of carbon paper between the top two.

The reason for three sheets of paper is that my Dad taught me that it would protect the carriage and keep it from breaking. The reason for the carbon paper is to properly recreate the way I typed my papers. Photocopies were rare and expensive back then so we used carbon paper. To my delight, I bought the carbon paper right at Office Depot. Apparently, it's still in use.  Despite that, when I show it to the kids, they think carbon paper is really cool. Of course, it takes them awhile to understand it's purpose but once they do, they think it's fun and want to make a huge mess with it.

BTW, who is Kevin Laurence and why would I mention him in a post about carbon paper?  Is he the inventor of carbon paper? No, he is not. Sadly, we don't know for sure who the inventor of carbon paper is but thanks to Kevin, I know this about the origins of carbon paper. And I quote from Kevin's The Exciting History of Carbon Paper!  

  The exact origin of carbon paper is somewhat uncertain. The first documented use of the term "carbonated paper" was in 1806, when an Englishman, named Ralph Wedgwood, issued a patent for his "Stylographic Writer." However, Pellegrino Turri had invented a typewriting machine in Italy by at least 1808, and since "black paper" was essential for the operation of his machine, he must have perfected his form of carbon paper at virtually the same time as Wedgwood, if not before (Adler, 1973). 

Kevin tracks the prehistory of carbon paper in its role supporting the love affair between Pellegrino Turri and the beautiful but blind Countess Carolina Fantoni, (I'm not making this up! But you'll have to click through for that story).  Kevin describes the big breakthrough of carbon paper:

By 1823 Cyrus P. Dakin of Concord, Massachusetts, was making carbon paper similar to Wedgwood's, and selling it exclusively to the Associated Press. Forty-eight years later, the same Associated Press was covering the balloon ascent of Lebbeus H. Rogers; a promotional stunt in Cincinnati for the biscuit and grocery firm of which Rogers had just been made a partner. During an interview in the newspaper offices after the flight, Rogers happened to see Dakin's carbon paper and immediately saw its commercial potential for the copying of office documents. The firm of L.H. Rogers & Co. was immediately founded in New York, and in 1870 achieved its first major sale ($1,500) to the United States War Department (Sheridan, 1991). However, it was not until 1872 and the development of a practical typewriter for commercial office use (the Sholes and Glidden typewriter), that Rogers' vision was proven correct.

And The Typewriter Provided The Perfect Application

For the first time a good copy could be produced at the same time as a good original.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So many levels of technology

I thought I'd include a picture that I took during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon (West Africa) in 1980-82.  At that time, the towns had running water and electricity (for the rich) and telephones that rarely worked. The  villages, where maybe half of the population still lived, had no telephones, electricity, or running water.

I hear that the rural schools still look this way.  But somehow, they do have working cell phones with Internet access almost throughout the country. Go figure.

The schools mostly had chalkboards, desks, benches, and a few books. A few years ago, I contributed heavily to a project to get a library of books (think several bookshelves) into thirty rural schools in Cameroon.   Isn't it odd to envisage these technically primitive schools co-existing in my world of being constantly wired, and in several ways!

Congrats to Jeff, Melanie, Jason, and Andrew

I just read a fantastic article about the history of educational technology. It's called The Evolution of Classroom Technology on a blog called

The article  is really a catalog of educational breakthroughs with short comments It makes some similar points about education and technology. Essentially, we feel today  that we are in the middle of a revolution in education due to technology. We are not the first to feel this way.  They base the article on a few Source(s): New York TimesHistory of ThingsWikipedia.

Since the article is so fantastic, I'm feeling a tad defensive.  You see, it's a fantastic timeline.  My blog is meant more of a catalog of my own collection, it's not trying to be a comprehensive timeline.  Which is good.  Since the team at Edudemic has totally won the race to produce a great comprehensive timeline.  Well done.  Very useful and interesting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mimeograph Machines

I have powerful and fond memories of the smell of the blue ink on the mimeographed copies that were used in my K12 schools.

 I haven't yet located a mimeograph that would have been in use in the 60s and 70s (my school days) but I was recently given this much more valuable and older mimeograph machine.

HELLO - If your school or church has an old mimeograph machine around, particularly if it's working order, please contact me (via since it would really help round our collection.

The mimeograph machine that I have is from just after the turn of the century.  It is labelled:

Edison's Rotary Mimeograph
 No. 76. 
Made by A. B. Dick Company, Chicago Illinois

There are a list of patents going back to 1897.

The machines that were used in the 1960s into the 80 were by the Standard Rocket company.

Here for instance is a manual version of the machines that I remember in the schools

 It is a 1961 Standard Rocket mimeograph machine with a few dozen Copy-rite Spirit Master Units  and two standard wicks (I'm not entirely sure what they are).  The machine is hand cranked and appears to be in working order.

About the smell. Yes, the smell of the freshly printed mimeographs is of course the most important thing.  Does anyone know what gave them that fantastic smell and how I could reproduce it?

 This blog highlights vintage educational technology which have been collected in the VocabularySpellingCity office such as My Victrola,  school desksGolden BooksDictionaries and Encyclopedias,  and film strips .

Take a peek at the cutting edge technology of yesteryear.