# NavList:

## A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding

**Re: Tables vs. Calculators**

**From:**Arthur Pearson

**Date:**2002 Sep 20, 18:12 -0400

Chuck, Very well stated argument, I agree. Even for those of us who can't program, replicating table results with a calculator or a spreadsheet, or even solving problems with two different tables or methods and reconciling results, leads to a much better understanding of what is under the covers. I would argue that robust navigational practice should always be comparing the different sources and methods and applying judgment in the face of what are often inconsistent or conflicting data ("my DR says X, my fathometer says Y, my distance off that mountain suggests Z, I believe I am..."). The same applies to sight reduction in that comparing methods and their differences leads to a greater understanding what variables have the impact the accuracy of the results. My only real objection to any black box (from 229 to GPS) is when complete faith is placed in one and only one method of obtaining position. Arthur -----Original Message----- From: Navigation Mailing List [mailto:NAVIGATION-L{at}LISTSERV.WEBKAHUNA.COM] On Behalf Of Chuck Taylor Sent: Friday, September 20, 2002 7:32 AM To: NAVIGATION-L{at}LISTSERV.WEBKAHUNA.COM Subject: Tables vs. Calculators Sight reduction tables have long been widely used by celestial navigators. Why? The formulas for sight reduction by the law of cosines have long been known. The answer is pretty straightforward: Tables are used to save labor in performing calculations. One can perform sight reduction by the law of cosines with with a set of trigonometric tables (sines, cosines, etc.) and a pencil and paper. Multiplying and dividing 5-digit sines and cosines can be a bit tedious, however. The traditional solution was to use more tables, specifically tables of logarithms, so that multiplication could be converted to addition, and division to subtraction. The next logical step was to combine trigonometric an logarithm tables, so that one could look up, for example, the log-sine of an angle (the logarithm of the sine). Then came variations on the same theme, such as tables of haversines and log-haversines. Next came various other sets of tables intended to speed up the process of sight reduction by combining various steps, relieving the navigator of still more of the labor of computation. Examples include HO 214, Pub 229, Ageton's Tables, and numerous others produced by various hydrographic offices around the world. Many of us object to the exclusive use of "black boxes" such as GPS units on the grounds that it takes all the sport out of navigating if all you have to do is turn on the black box and observe your position (either the lat/lon or a mark on a chartplotter). We call it a "black box" because most of us don't fully understand how it operates, and we certainly can't duplicate its results by other means such as pencil and paper. We also believe that it is important to use the traditional methods in order to maintain our skills. Who knows, the black box may fail some day. I would argue that tables such as Pub 229 are an early form of "black box". At least many of us treat it as such. We open to the appropriate page and extract numbers, trusting on faith that they are correct. How many of us have tried to verify that those numbers are correct? I have. I can successfully reproduce the main tables by computer, but I have been stumped at trying to reverse engineer the the interpolation tables (difference and double-second-difference tables). I even asked the folks at NIMA who publish the tables, and they couldn't give me a satisfactory answer. If I can't program it, I don't trust it. I would be very grateful if one of you could provide me with a set of algorithms to reproduce the various difference and double-second-difference tables in Pub 229. How can we logically dismiss the use of the "GPS black box" while simultaneously embracing the "Pub 229 black box"? I'll grant you that the Pub 229 black box is less susceptible to failure due to causes beyond the control of the navigator, but it still has many of the other characteristics of a black box. (It is certainly easier to carry a spare GPS than a spare set of the various volumes of Pub 229.) To me a calculator is less of a black box than a set of tables. I can reproduce the calculator's results using pencil and paper and a bit of time and effort. I could even reproduce the sines and cosines if I wanted to trouble myself with going through a Taylor series expansion. Because I can independently reproduce what a calculator does, I trust it. I don't trust tables that I can't reproduce. (I do trust the Ageton tables, because they are more easily reproduceable). In this sense, the use of a calculator is arguably less of a black-box operation than the use of sight reduction tables such as Pub 229. In that sense I would argue that the use of calculators (programmable or otherwise) is fully in keeping with the spirit of traditional navigation. The calculator simply does what you could do with more time and effort. There is nothing mysterious about it. Those who came before us weren't a bit shy about using such labor-saving methods as tables of logarithms. Why should we be shy about using more modern labor-saving devices? Chuck Taylor Everett, WA, USA