There’s a reason I studied English in college. It’s called math. I never was really good at it. That much became clear to me in Susan Batts’ ninth-grade algebra class. We were given a really complex problem to solve. It went something like this:
Two trains leave their terminals in Los Angeles and New York City at the same time, each heading to the other city. The distance between New York and Los Angeles is 3,000 miles. If one train travels at 75 mph and the other train travels at 95 mph, how far will the trains travel before they meet each other? I couldn’t get past the notion that the two trains would have a terrible crash somewhere around Kansas City.
On Tuesday, I went shopping for a calculator my daughter, Pitt, needed for her math class. To say my jaw dropped when I saw the display would be an understatement. She was in the market for a TI-84. She selected a purple TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition. The price tag? $104! The calculator right below it – which I thought had an equally impressive number of buttons – retailed for $13.89. I shudder to think what the TI-84 Gold Edition would have cost.
“What the heck,” I asked Pitt. “What does that darn thing do? Cook breakfast?”
“It’s a graphing calculator, Dad,” she explained. She must have thought that meant something to me.
I started thinking about these calculators. My first calculator was an abacus. No kidding. In second grade at Wendell Elementary, Ms. Rogers taught us how to use the abacus, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. The abacus made it very simple to understand the concept that 3+3=6. That was pretty much the peak of my mathematical education.
After Pitt went to bed Tuesday night, I studied this calculator she made me buy. It weighs slightly less than my laptop. It has 48 buttons, most of which can apparently do more than one thing. I used it to double check my abacus. Fortunately for the TI-84, 3+3 still equals 6. Some of the buttons have letters and symbols I don’t understand at all. One says “STO.” Another says X,T,ɵ, n. Don’t even ask me what that button does. I was afraid to press it for fear the whole calculator might take off like a rocket ship, which, by the way, is something else it should be able to do for $104.
I tried reading the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual comes in three booklets. Three! The biggest is 16 pages. Another is 14 pages. Pitt will graduate before she can read all that. I did see, thankfully, that the calculator comes with a warranty. That’ll come in handy when Pitt throws the thing against the wall in disgust. Under legal remedies, I see that I’m entitled to replacement cost on the condition I fully understand how to operate the calculator!
In my humble opinion, a $104 calculator ought to be able to do a lot more than solve mathematical equations. (Yes, there’s even a button that says “Solve.” When I pressed it, the screen said “Syntax error.” Hmmph. Bet my abacus wouldn’t have given me that response.
And I bet Ms. Rogers didn’t pay $104 for it either.