For several weeks, I've been putting off the inevitable: buying a new calculator.
In case you weren't aware, my day job may be goat-eating bridgekeeper, but by night I moonlight as a scientist. (It's tough to make ends meet, what with our little horde of troll-lings.)
It's my trusty TI-85. Actually, it's been dying for a long time; the screen dims within weeks of putting in new batteries. It's not quite dead yet, but I've admitted to myself that it's destined for the trash heap.
I've had this calculator about fifteen years. At the time it came out, the TI-85 and its cousins were really impressive. It could graph basic equations (very useful for pre-calculus) and do symbolic arithmetic. Nothing terribly revolutionary, but to be able to do this on an affordadable handheld tool... very cool. Of course at the time I mostly used it to play Tron in government class.
I used this calculator in university (engineering: advanced bridge design), graduate school (economics: modeling income flow as coupled differential equations describing populations of toll-paying goats), and in my work as a Real Scientist.
I really like this calculator. I'm not ready to give it up.
But being made of stern stuff, I decided to go calculator shopping. I remember it cost more than $100 when I first bought it (or rather, the Bank of Parents bought it). So I figured, Moore's Law, something similarly powerful should only cost a few dollars.
OK, maybe not that low: the price of a calculator isn't all in its transistors. But let's say, a regular scientific calculator might be $35. No way a graphing calculator could be more than $60, unless it has so much horsepower that it's practically sentient.
When I lumbered over to Ye Olde Staples, a wee tear in my eye, and found to surprise that they still sell the same calculator. Actually, I saw the TI-85+ (oooh, "plus") and a few other similar models, along with some crappy knockoff graphing calculators. As near as I can tell, it's the same calculator, with a slight style re-design. (Possibly there are some improvements in memory, speed and screen resolution?)
The asking price was about $150.
Shock! Consternation! It's been 15 years, and the price hasn't dropped! (!!)
There are some differences, but it sure looks like basically the same calculator. The profit margin must be obscene.
Did I buy it?
Well, the interesting thing is: I don't actually need a graphing calculator. A high-school student might still find a graphing calculator to be useful. The rest of us have better tools on our computers. If I want to do graphing, I'll use Kaleidagraph on my computer (Kaleidagraph is the best graphing program out there; sorry, Igor fans). Symbolic mathematics and calculus: hello, Mathematica (although Mathematica is fiendishly difficult to use).
In fact, I haven't used TI-85 to do any graphing in many years. A calculator is just not the right tool for the job. What I did use it for was entering long sums; you can write out many lines of your calculation all at once and double-check. Complicated mathematics is tough to do with a regular scientific calculator; if you make a typo, it's very hard to notice.
That's the real reason I hung onto my TI-85: the multi-line screen. Amazingly, I couldn't find anything usefully similar in the store. There was one four-line-screen calculator, but entering a long calculation on one line just ended up having it scroll to the right (instead of wrapping to the next line). Oh, that's so helpful folks; I just love doing calculations when I can't see all the bloody terms on the screen.
No, I didn't buy a replacement. The price was too high. Offensively high. Texas Instruments should feel free to envision me saying something rude in their direction.
I have other calculators. But they can never take the place of my TI-85.
Anyone who can suggest a replacement (impossible!), please leave a comment. (If your suggestion mentions Reverse Polish Notation, your comment will be ruthlessly deleted; let's not mock the dead.)
Support Books Under the Bridge
Shop at Amazon.com