" 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.
There were other projects my Dad and I did together over the years. (Remember the huge plaster model of a glacial valley Dad?
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.