The real answer is:

If you have to ask, you're too young to understand.

A more meaningful answer is:

An expensive stick used to add (or subtract) numbers. When you add logarithms of numbers, you multiply. Subtract to divide. When you add logarithms of the logarithms of numbers, you can do exponentiations.

The stick can be made of a number of materials. Cheap ones were plastic. Better ones were bamboo, or ivory covered bamboo.

Serious geek sliderules had twenty or more scales. Pat had, of course, a very serious sliderule in 1969. And of course, serious geeks never get rid of sacred artifacts.

Sliderules became practically obsolete by 1970, by 1974 they were used only by old-timers. Pat still has his as a symbol of his geekdom.

a good site about collecting slide rules is

Slide Rule Links

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PDF June 5, 1995