Sunday, June 17, 2007

The 1969 science fair

" I can't decide whether to take the money or the prize."
"Take the prize" Dad advised. "The money will be spent next week, but this prize is something you will use forever."

I thought longingly of the five dollars. I could buy this new stuff that had just come out, shiny lip gloss. And some aqua blue eye shadow. In 1969, in grade 7, these were precious items. But in the end I took my Dad's advice, and chose the prize. Sophia Caccione, the third place winner, got the five bucks. I had won second place in the Junior High science fair. Well, actually my Dad did.

My science fair project was grandiosely called a "base-2 computer". Weeks earlier, when I was struggling with ideas for a science fair project, my Dad had asked, "Well, what are you studying right now in math class?"

"Um, binary numbers. I don't really understand it" I said. (I said this about math class often.)

"Well, that's great," said Dad. "We could make a kind of counting computer that displays numbers in binary code, base-2."

I had no idea what Dad was talking about, but I liked the sound of "WE". My Dad is a civil engineer. "Let's sit down and draw up some plans" he said. We sat. He drew. The next weekend, plans in hand, we went to the hobby store and bought meccano stuff: gears, wires, little levers, lights and a battery. I could not have put these together to make a base-2 counter any more than I could have ridden my pink banana bike to the moon.

We spent many evenings in the basement workshop, putting this marvel together. I watched a lot, or occasionally held something steady, while Dad bolted parts, connected wires, and patiently explained the concepts as we progressed. By the end of this project, I actually understood how binary code worked. And still do. When it was finished, it was amazing. You could press a lever marked 1 through ten, and the number would be displayed in binary code in a series of lights that went off or on to represent zero or one.

Dad I should have won first place. Instead of Danny Finkelstein's stupid exploding volcano. Anyone can mix vinegar and baking soda and put it under a paper volcano. Dad I had made a freakin base-2 computer. How cool is that!

There were other projects my Dad and I did together over the years. (Remember the huge plaster model of a glacial valley Dad? You I got an A in geography that year because of it.)

Thanks for that Dad. Those hours in the workshop working with you were special. Your patience and help were priceless. I love you for it. So in honour of Father's Day, I am passing on to you the prize you advised me to take at the 1969 science fair. The one you said I would use forever. The one I gave up lip gloss and blue eye shadow for.

The slide rule.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I still have the meccano gears in a tin can in my workshop. I too have a slide rule, also stored in the workshop. It was only several years later that digital hand operated calculators appeared on the market in great numbers. K&E (world renowned slide rule makers) in 1971 gave their jigs and dies to the Smithsonian museum. I agree, the five dollars would have been a better prize. Dad

jmb said...

Hi voyager,
That was a really special post and I see that you Dad enjoyed it too.
Thanks for sharing those great memories.

Jocelyn said...

This is my favorite post of yours.


And my favorite Father's Day post.

And stuff.

Dumdad said...

Fabulous post, I really enjoyed that on various levels: you and your dad bonding, meccano, a binary computer and, the finale, a picture of a slide rule. I remember when I was first given a slide rule thinking how cool and complicated it was. I must show my son and daughter the picture as I no longer have my slide rule.

Jazz said...

How does binary code work? And does anyone still use a slide rule? And how does a slide rule work?


Voyager said...

Dad, You still have the meccano gears? What can we make next time I visit?

jmb and jocelyn, Why thank you. I'm blushing.

DD and Jazz, I have no idea now how to work a slide rule any more.


Ian Lidster said...

You would have looked gorgeous in that aqua-blue eye-shadow, no doubt.
But, aside from that, what a touching anecdote and how blessed you were to have had such a father with whom you could have had that sort of relationship. And, your computer, what a project. That's the probloem with the volcano thing, though, glitz and drama always prevail, otherwise there'd be no Angelina Jolie, who is on a fast-track to becoming the most tiresome person in the known universe after Bono.
I liked this blog, my cyber-friend.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

What a charming post! I loved reading it and picturing you and your dad working together to win a sliderule. The real prize was this memory, beautifully told.

And I hope that shiny lipgloss and blue eye shadow found their way into your life by 8th grade.

Voyager said...

Ian and hisf, Thank goodness the bright blue eye shadow phase did not last long.

Ian Lidster said...

She walked across the lake like a flamingo.

Rozanne said...

Great post!

How well I remember spending weeks and weeks and weeks (it seemed) on base 2 in math class and never understanding it at all. It's wonderful that your dad took the time to help you with your project and explain the concepts--that's by far the best way to learn something. Hands on.

I remember my 8th grade science class very well and the science projects we had to make. One girl came in and blew everyone out of the water with her project entitled : "What Is the Nature of Polarized Light?" Holy shit! I don't even think we'd studied light at that point and here she was jumping ahead to what seemed to me to be college-level stuff. And I could totally tell she understood it, too. Even though I was baffled, I was impressed.

My project was ridiculously simple: "How Can You Make Your Own Toothpaste?" It was more like a cooking class project than a science project.

Voyager said...

Ian, I am experimenting with blogger's new feature to add a photo to your header. I can't get it to fit properly. I wish I had time to properly learn how to design and set up my own page, instead of using blogger's templates.

Rozanne, I remember making toothpaste in scienc class in grade 7 or 8. It had chalk, and baking soda, and who knows what else in it. It was foul stuff. No doubt yours tasted better.

Diana said...

Your dad was right, wasn't he? You do treasure that slide rule. (Do you know how to use it?) Colin has been starting to show interest in doing the science fair, maybe he (and I) can put together something way cool, too.

Yes. You were robbed. That volcano kid must have bribed the judges.

Unknown said...

A slide rule? Awesome.

I was in a science fair. Once. I did very poorly.

Unknown said...

I wish I still had my slide rule, though I'd need a refresher course in order to operate it. My husband has helped our kids make the most amazing science and geography projects - true works of art. I know they have fond memories of those times as well. I pretty much had to do all those projects on my own growing up. Mom was a firm believer in letting (making?) us do our projects on our own as much as possible, though she was a pretty amazing campaign speech writer for those high school election speeches. Dad just wasn't the project-helping kind of dad. More interested in what HE was interested in doing than in what we were doing. Hmmm, he's still like that today. *sigh...

Anyway, we're practically neighbors! We have visited Vancouver a couple of times, and Victoria too, naturally. Gorgeous places. Have you ever been to this neck of the woods? (Sandpoint, ID). Got to you via the blog review. :) I like your blog!

Voyager said...

Diana, If you and Colin enter the science fair, here's my advice: Make an exploding volcano.

Hi Gina, Glad you stopped by. I've never been to Sand Point, although I have a cousin who lived there for years. I have been to Ketchum and the sawtooth mountains though, beautiful!
You fared far better in Wendz blog review than I. I enjoyed your blog too. What she claims are simple are techno geek mysteries to me.

Big Brother said...

Brings back memories voyager, a slide rule I'll have to go rummage in the basement boxes and see if I still have mine. A very touching post, I also remember working with my dad on various class projects. Those were great times.

Unknown said...

If I were your dad, youwold get lip gloss and blue eyeshadow for your next birthday or Christmas, wich ever comes first.

CS said...

Great ending to that story. Too bad about the eye shadow, but so cool to have that good time with your Dad.

Voyager said...

BB, Maybe the museum would like your slide rule!

Sister, It has been years since I wore eye shadow, or lip gloss, or any kind of make up. I could use a good chap stick though. Hey Dad....

CS, Yes, it is cool to have those memories. I did school projects with my son too, although not being an engineer, I lacked the technical expertise of my Dad.

Dreama said...

After reading your post, I began to think about the special moments I've had over the years with my own dad, as he was a very similar guy and also attempted to teach me about binary code...thanks for the trip down memory lane.

Coffee-Drinking Woman said...

I was nodding along at the dad-driven science fair projects... until I came to the picture of the slide rule, the thing you gave up lip gloss and blue eyeshadow for, and now I can't stop giggling.

Thanks. I needed that.