Let Inga Tell You: The geek squad rides again

A slide rule brought back many happy memories during Olof’s April reunion with his college physics-major roommates.

Amazingly enough, Olof and his six fellow physics-major college roommates have managed almost yearly reunions for six decades. Some year’s reunions were related to weddings or milestone birthdays, others for no reason other than the pleasure of getting together. Who could have predicted the long-term bonding behind force = mass x acceleration?

The pandemic put a bit of a crimp on things, so to make up for lost time, we hosted a reunion in La Jolla in April.

Part of our appeal was that the six other couples were coming off cold winters in Boston, Toronto, Minneapolis, Seattle, Eugene, Ore., and the Bay Area. They were looking for sunshine and warmth.

On the day they arrived, it was warmer in every one of those places than in La Jolla. In fact, the couple coming from Woodbury, Minn., noted that they had left a 76-degree day to come to a city with a high of 57 and drizzle.

Of the four days of the reunion, we did get one day of sunshine, but the temperature never broke 60. The day before the reunion was to begin, I emailed everyone to bring jackets. As in warm ones.

OK, for most of them “warm ones” were anoraks. And they hardly considered a high of 57 to be sub-Arctic. And was “drizzle” even considered weather?

But for us Southern Californians, this was unacceptable weather for April. Especially precipitation in any form. Plans had to be altered.

Given the circumstances, we decided it behooved us to ramp up the adult beverage selection to a full bar. That way, people might not realize it was actually raining (OK, drizzling) outside.

This being a group of physics majors who have all gone on to successful geeky careers, I brought out the slide rule that I gave Olof for Christmas a few years ago, which, as you might imagine, brought back a wave of nostalgia as the group giddily relived the calculation of such functions as exponents, roots, logarithms and whatever else slide rules did. Good Scotch and a slide rule: Do we know how to entertain or what?

A few times over the years, the guys have gone on geek fests by themselves.

One of Olof’s roommates formerly lived in eastern Washington state, and as it turns out, there is no lack of tech-y, physics-y stuff to do there. Fearing glassy-eyed spouses whining “Are we done yet?” they opted that year to reunite without us.

Up first for the guys was a trip to Hanford in Washington for a tour of Reactor B, where plutonium was first manufactured as part of the Manhattan Project, followed by a day at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), a large-scale physics laboratory aimed at directly detecting gravitational waves. For people with Olof’s background, life doesn’t get more exciting than this.

Then it was a drive back across the state to Everett for a tour of the Boeing factory where airplanes are made. I hear they got misty-eyed.

En route, there was a brief, somewhat sentimental side trip to the potato farm that was a long-ago first investment of one of the roommates. In fact, he had tried to entice Olof to move up there to manage a processing plant that would convert all those potatoes into frozen potato products. Olof’s vision for himself at the time didn’t include being a spud farmer in eastern Washington.

“Just think, Olof,” I said upon hearing this. “If you’d taken this path, imagine all the life experiences you would have missed, like four years in Riyadh, a year in Dayton, 18 months at the Dallas airport, all those trips to Biloxi and more than a million miles on an airplane. You could have just had a quiet life in Yakima churning out french fries!”

Whenever Olof and I have traveled over the years, he was always immediately attracted to the technical aspects of whatever we were doing. When we lived in Sweden and were considering a trip above the Arctic Circle to Kiruna, friends said: “Why would you go there? There is nothing there but a huge iron ore mine.”

Olof lit up like a Christmas tree. “There’s a mine?” (As an engineer, Olof’s heart beats faster at the thought of excavation.) When he learned that one could take a three-hour mine tour, this trip was sealed in steel.

Another time, we took a large passenger ferry across the Baltic. As soon as the boat started moving, I was clicking away at the scenery and Olof was hanging precariously over the rail studying the boat’s steering capability and babbling excitedly about vector thrusters. Engineers are very big on thrusters. (Or is it vectors?)

Well, the weather could have been better for this year’s reunion (in Olof’s and my opinion, at least), but a good time was had by all. And that 2019 eBay-purchased slide rule saw more action than it had in its entire existence.

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆