Monday, October 08, 2007

The Log-Antilog Procedure: Part I

When I was in my upper secondary some 12 years ago, calculators were forbidden in modern mathematics examination. Nevertheless, I bought my first scientific calculator, a Casio FX570, at that time because I fancied the buttons with many strange symbols on them.

One of the topics in modern mathematics was to perform numerical computations using the four-figure tables. I remember vividly that in the classroom, I watched bemusedly, as my teacher demonstrated to us, the lengthy and laborious procedure for obtaining product like 10.8 x 87.85.

The procedure involved reading the logarithms for the two numbers from the logarithm table, add them up, and reading the table again for the antilogarithm of the addend.

At the end of the class, I approached my teacher and asked him why we should learn such an unproductive technique when we can directly generate the result with just a few key strokes on a cheap calculator. My teacher’s tone was authoritarian: “because this is the syllabus outlined by the school and you have to follow”.

Then, I showed him my new scientific calculator and asked him whether or not I can officially use it to obtain logarithms and antilogarithms of numbers. My teacher said, “No, you cannot. You have to learn to use the log table”.

For the sake of classroom tests and school examinations, I reluctantly learned and mastered the log-antilog procedure.

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