Friday, September 14, 2007

Oh, for the old days.

My calculator broke so I had to buy another one.

Now, I don’t need much from a calculator. Some basic statistics, so I need square-root, maybe sine, cosine, tangent, log etc, just in case. So I’m not in the PDA league here (I have one because it’s a gadget but I don’t use much of it. It’s a Palm 3, frowned upon by real geeks because it has a monochrome screen and little memory, but it does all I need and more).

My old calculator had many buttons, half of which I never felt the need to press. Some I had no idea what they’d do. For a new one, I visited the local supermarket. They, I thought, will have a cheap one that’ll do what I need.

At the bottom end of the scale are calculators I could never have afforded twenty years ago. Now they’re on sale for pocket change. A desktop calculator, a chunky one, would have set me back four pounds (about eight dollars). It didn’t have the buttons I needed so I moved up the rack.

Aha, I thought, here’s just the thing. All the buttons I need and another whole bunch of buttons I’ll never press. Plus a ‘shift’ function so there are buttons I’ll never press, twice.

This was just under eight pounds. About sixteen dollars or less. It won’t even register on my budget. I thought it was just what I needed—simple to operate and covered every function I needed. Plus a couple of dozen I didn’t need and a few I don’t believe anyone needs.

Cheap and simple? Ha! It took me twenty minutes to get the little swine to answer the most basic of calculations.

What’s (2/3)*0.253? According to this damn machine it’s 253/1500.

What the hell use is that? Do I need another calculator to work out what this one’s telling me?

I waded through the documentation. As with all modern technology, the instruction book is four times the size of the gadget. It took a while.

Press shift-this and shift-that and select from the menu and it finally acts like a real calculator.

It has a text display. It can find errors in formulae and display them. It can adjust and correct entries.

I don’t want this electronic nanny telling me it knows best all the time. Yet it’s one of the cheapest calculators out there. It’s so damn complex it could probably take me to the Moon. If I press the wrong button, it might yet do that.

It cost eight pounds. I’m very, very glad I didn’t move along the rack to the more expensive models. They might prove to me, mathematically and unarguably, that I’m a badger with warts. In case you’re wondering, I don’t have warts and I’ve never badged.

I remember, years ago when I was at school—in the days when schools taught some useful things—learning how to work out square roots on paper. I wish I could remember the method, then I could bin this thing.

It won’t happen. I’m stuck with the electro-nagger until it breaks. Then I’ll have to buy another new one.

By then, the cheapest calculators will probably be speaking to me.


ThatGreenyFlower said...

Funny One,

As long as my calculator continues to merely suggest that I sine below and then find someone to cosine, hold myself back from going off on tangents, and continue to add to my repertoire of bad math jokes (as opposed to actually speaking these things to me), I think I'm ok. When it starts actually talking to me, though, that's another ball of wax entirely.

Found you via Scary Monster. Thanks for letting me pop by.

Romulus Crowe said...

All are welcome here, thatgreenyflower. I took a look at your blog and I'll be back, never fear. I have the feeling you operate at the other end of the lifespan from me, though.

Scary Monster said...

Me don't particularly need a calculator very often. Never in me life has me needed to know the sine or cosine of anything except on the paychecks me hands out at the end of the month. It annoys me that the folks that work cash registers at the convenience store and supermarkets can't do simple arithmatic without the aid of an electronic contrivance.


ThatGreenyFlower said...

You don't want friends at opposite end of the lifespan? What are you, age-ist or something?! Aaaw, mate, just kidding.

...What I really want to know is whether I'm the one who's aged and decrepit, or if you're the one with the gray hairs?

Maybe if you could define the lifespan for me?

Romulus Crowe said...

Scary - we have shops here called '99p stores' where everything is priced at 99p or multiples of it. The tills have a big button marked '99' on them. No brain is required to operate them.

Kids are brought up with calculators these days. They've never been trained in even simple maths, and have no idea how to use a book of log-tables or a slide rule. Even the bright ones can't add up in their heads and their grasp of written English is pidgeon at best.

It's the new Education. Rather than allow bright children to become an elite, the system drags them down to the level of the dumbest. We can't have any clever children making the slow ones feel bad, now can we?

I don't see it improving in the near future, either.

Romulus Crowe said...

Thatgreenyflower - I meant your job. I had the impression you bring children into the world, whereas I don't deal with them until after they've died. In between, they're someone else's problem.

I didn't mean to imply I thought you were old. I had a longer reply, but deleted it when I realised that any discussion of a woman's age is going to get me into trouble whatever I say, so my best option was to just keep quiet;)

ThatGreenyFlower said...

Oh, I gotcha. My job involves lots of things at all ages of the lifespan, actually. There've just been a lot of "newbies" lately, and no one has died.

I'm pushing the middle third of my lifespan. Don't mind talking about it. I feel younger than 38.

Oh, and I have two genius children (they take after their Da). If we have to send them to University classes at age 12 to make them use their brains, we will. If that makes other kids feel bad...too bad. I had to learn to root squares, by golly, and so will they. e to the minus whatever, here we come! DUCK!

Romulus Crowe said...

Good for you. Don't let the education system drag your children down to the level of those that write essays as if they were texting. I've seen it in university students, and been in trouble for refusing to mark papers not written in English.

I wish I could remember how to find square roots. Although I've never yet found a use for some of the other maths I learned. Quadratic equations come to mind. Nobody ever told me what they were for.

tom sheepandgoats said...


Though I don't think you've ever said your age, surely you can't be too young. This line gives you away: "I waded through the documentation." Young people never wade through documentation. They throw it away & figure out everything else by trial and error. I'm wiht you, though. I wade though the documentation, and usually get thoroughly exasperated.

Did I tell you one? A fellow who taught a computer course I took not too long ago. He relates he was in a McDonalds or somewhere and was fiddling with his slide rule. "What's that?" the young clerk asked. So our fellow showed him and demoed a calculating problems. "Cool!" the kid said. "You should get a patent on that! You'd make millions!"

Romulus Crowe said...

Tom, I have a slide rule and I know how to use it. That does date me somewhat. I also have a set of log tables somewhere on my shelves.

A large part of this is down to a physics teacher at school who considered pocket calculators to be brain-repressing machines. He made us work things out 'the real way'.

My one regret is that I never thanked him for it.

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