
In this age, miracles impress more
than reason. Miracle, when explained, is science; science, when
explained, is mathematics; mathematics, when explained, is
logarithms; and logarithms, when explained, are Shailesh A.
Shirali.
This stepwise
calculation proves that Shirali raised to the power of Napier is
magic. This school principal speaks from an experience that
comes from forming Problem Committees of International
Mathematical Olympiads and 20 years of teaching mathematics.
You are not
allowed to use calculators, so far at least, in examination
halls in India, but you may ask for log tables and slide rule at
any time during the test. If the study of logarithms is not part
of the syllabus, students often ignore this instruction. They
are unaware that these tools help to arrive at solutions much
faster than any other method. In schools and engineering
colleges, students, for the past several decades, have never
seen a slide rule; and engineering students of the past have
long forgotten how to use it. Who’ll believe that, once, it
used to be their constant companion.
The operation of
using logarithms converts products into sums and quotients into
differences. A problem of multiplication, thus, becomes a
problem of addition, while a problem of division becomes a
problem of subtraction, which simplifies the calculation.
One can use this
power to measure astronomical distances, intensities of sound
and earthquake, acidity of a solvent or the halflife of
radioactive isotopes. Test nuclear weapons, predict storms,
conduct psychophysics tests, plan out an investment or calculate
the interest on it. Find out the relation between prime numbers
and natural logarithms, the secret of numbergenius Srinivas
Ramanujan or about ‘e’ (which is not equal to MC^2).
While this book
may not fit into your pocket for reference during an
examination, log tables and slide rule will. The book is as much
for the uninitiated as it is for teams preparing for a
Mathematical Olympiad. Take what it teaches; your sense of
wonder will improve and you’ll never again confuse log tables
with furniture.
