Cancelling KDDI and a 1930 Keuffel & Esser slide rule.

Tonight, I have been dealing with numbers and technology.

First off, I still have my cell phone service from Japan. KDDI is great when you are there, but for me to use it here in the States would be prohibitively expensive. So I had to try and contact KDDI on a landline to cancel.

This took about one hour, but mostly because I wanted to have the English translator there. Since it’s late December, I felt it shouldn’t be any problem to have a same-day cancellation, but for some reason, KDDI can’t do this. Funny, when I went into the store in Shibuya earlier in the month, the woman at the counter said I could only have a same-day cancellation. (Not, say, cancel on December 21.)

The number I used was an “03” one that I had found on an English KDDI website for people who were calling from overseas. The free dail one with the 7’s and 1’s was useless, unless I don’t know the trick of how to do a free dial from outside Japan.

I think KDDI has moved me to the basic plan, in the event, for some reason, that they can’t cancel the contract by New Year’s Day. So I’d end up paying the basic rate (788 yen) for January.

It makes no sense to keep that service, if it’s not clear whether I am going to be here or there. Just another sad thing I had to get out of the way, and one more cut to the many ties I had with my old home.

Earlier today, my parents gave me something interesting. I have a grandfather who I never met, because he passed away from cancer at age 45—six years before I was born. As I myself turned 45 this year, I have thought about him in recent months. I am his namesake, too, which makes me a “Deuce” like President Obama.

My grandfather, in his young days, had a slide rule manufactured by the Keuffel & Esser company of New York. Slide rules were going out right about the time I started to learn about things like cube roots (1974), so I am part of the succeeding, calculator generations. But I was fascinated as a youngster at how a simple plastic ruler could give you the answers to multiplication problems. (This obviously comes from the fact that exponentials or logarithms are additive, but that is not so clear when you are nine.)

My grandfather’s slide rule looks to be from 1930. Dr. Eric Marcotte in Canada took the time in years past to do a web page on the evolution of “K & E” slide rules. I had never heard of Keuffel & Esser before today, or rather, if I had heard of them it was in a way that I couldn’t recall their names, but they were the big deal in slide rules for most of the 20th century. Their Jersey connection was that they had a large manufacturing plant in Hoboken.

The slide rule is missing the cursor, but otherwise it’s in pretty good shape–worn just enough to make me confident that my granddad actually used the thing! My guess is that he got it as a 16 year old, and then carried it with him through the Newark College of Engineering.

Imagine that math calculations that take us seconds (because the computer does the work) used to be something where you might sit for ten minutes or a half an hour working to get the same result. I picture my grandfather using this.

So having dealt tonight with getting phone service on a satellite phone shut off from half way around the world, I am sitting here looking at a non-electronic device made of mahogany and plastic that was a technological wonder 80 years ago.