Thomas Frey: In 1972, I was young engineering student at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD. One of the first courses I was required to take was a short-course on slide rules. For those of you who don’t know what a slide rule is – first came the abacus, then came the slide rule, and then came the calculator.

This was a time when the real “cool geeks” on campus walked around proudly displaying their black carrying case for their slide rule that was attached to their belt. Brainiacs on parade, a way of telling the world how smart they were.



Early calculators were first showing their face around 1970, but in 1972 they were still pretty expensive. I remember arguing with my teacher about whether or not the slide rule course was necessary and his response was that “all engineers need to know how to run the slide rule.” Tough to argue with that logic.



But of course his thinking was wrong. Even though I took the course and passed it with flying colors, I’ve never used a slide rule in doing engineering work. Engineers at Hewlett Packard and Texas Instruments who were working on next generation calculators at the time would have laughed at my teacher’s assertion that slide rules were always going to be the centerpiece of the engineer’s tool chest.



Clearly this period of time was the end of an era. It was the end of the slide rule era and the beginning of the calculator era.



As a society we haven’t seen the end of too many eras, but we are on the verge of experiencing many things disappearing in the near future. Most won’t be as cleanly defined as the slide rule being replaced by the calculator. Often times the soon-to-be-obsolete technology will be replaced by two or three other technologies.



As I sketched out the simple diagram showing the end of one era and the beginning of another, the point where the two eras overlapped caught my attention. This period of time was important to isolate because of the extreme dynamics happing there. It also occurred to me that we didn’t have a name for this intersection of technology, this collision of business forces.



So I came up with the name “Maximum Freud”. Yes, it’s a rather wacky name, but it makes sense.



More here.

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