Thursday, 14 September 2017


St Andrews University
    The other week one of my close friends was recollecting about her son when he was sitting a math's exam for the first time at high school. He asked her if he could have a calculator and she accused him of trying to cheat, because as far as she was concerned his brain should be doing the work. In denial he explained that he was one of the only boys in his class that didn't have one.
    Of course mothers know that when kids say, 'they're the only kid that doesn't have one,' this isn't always the case. However, when she checked with the school she found out that the kids were being encouraged to use them and that he had in fact been using one provided by the school.

    Feeling slightly guilty at doubting her son she went straight out and bought him one. She explained to me that still to this day, thirty-years on, she carries the guilt.    

The Quad, St Andrews University

    Now, children grow up with calculators, iPads and the rest. I never really thought about how the whole thing of calculators and computing came about until the other day. When I read about the Scottish, mathematician, physicist and astronomer, John Napier who died four hundred years ago.

    His invention of logarithms and a type of abacus called 'Napier's Bones' opened up a whole new way of tackling mathematical calculations. His abacus was the forerunner to a calculator and helped in the development of the "slide-rule"or "slipstick" I believe you call it in the US.

    Napier went to the University of St Andrews at an early age, however he only stayed for a short time. Like many inventors, what I've read about him demonstrates he had a certain amount of foresight. He became better known for his mathematical achievements including introduction of the decimal point in calculations.

    Although, his other creations included a type of 'burning mirror' to be used by ships in war and a chariot that fired shots also to be used in warfare, I'm sure inspired other inventors. Of course, his inspiration for both the latter items mentioned, could have been gotten from Archimedes and Leonardo da Vinci. It doesn't really matter though, because I'm sure he got his calculations correct.

St Salvators clock, the college itself is where Napier studied

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