[LMB] Old Moldy OT:

Joel Polowin jpolowin at hotmail.com
Wed May 10 14:46:45 BST 2006

Christine Forber <christine at forber.net> wrote:
>I taught chemistry labs while I was a grad student from
>82-87. Students had quizzes at the beginning of each lab to
>ensure that they had read up on the lab of the week. Many of
>the quizzes involved some calculations. We always had log
>tables around in case anyone forgot their calculator, but I
>don't think that a single student took me up on the offer.
>Just for fun, I took my slide rule with me one day and
>offered it to the forgetful student of the week. They looked
>at me as though I were suggesting that they use an abacus.
>It was rather funny. Also pathetic in that they had no
>notion of how to estimate a reasonable answer. The
>calculator was always right. Yeah, sure.

My first summer job was in a chemistry lab in 1981; I was to start
my university studies the following September.  I learned a healthy
disrespect for the notion that advanced academic standing necessarily
implied intelligence and/or skills that summer.  One of the most
telling moments was when I saw a Ph.D. student, about half way
through his program, using a calculator to multiply 2-digit integers
by 10.  "21 times 10 is..." <punch> <punch> "Oh, yes, of course."
<notebook scribble> "22 times 10 is..." <punch> <punch> ...

And yes, in general people are not good about sanity checks on
calculated results.  "Okay, you calculated the pressure in the system
as around -100,000 atmospheres.  Doesn't that number seem... *large*?
And what *is* a large *negative* pressure supposed to mean?"  "But
that's what the calculator said!"  <*sigh*>


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