Monday, June 27, 2011

My 4th Calculator

My parents bought me my first calculator in 1974. I was in 10th grade and taking Algebra 2/Trigonometry. Some of my classmates were getting expensive Texas Instruments calculators to help them with their homework. Mom and Dad bought me an early version of the little square plastic case Commodore Minuteman for $40. It added, subtracted, divided, multiplied and might have had a percent key and a memory key.

Several months later I saw an advertisement for a more advanced Commodore Minuteman that had a square root key, for the same price as my original; $40.00. I convinced my parents that the square root key was worth it. That little rechargeable, LED screen, Commodore Minuteman served me well through the rest of High School, including Chemistry, Physics and Pre-Calculus. I even used it in a high school class on how to use the slide rule where all the students used their calculators to check slide rule calculations. Yea, slide rules were still in use back then and calculators were novel and expensive. I continued to use that second Commodore Minuteman all through college, including Calculus and Statistics and never used a slide rule after the slide rule class.

Well into 1980 or early 1981, my second Commodore Minuteman finally died. I replaced it with a Sharp, ELSI MATE EL-211, primarily to balance my checkbook, calculate my taxes, and keep track of the average miles per gallon our cars were getting. That Sharp is still working and I think I have replaced the batteries only once in thirty years. Along with cockroaches, my Sharp could probably survive a nuclear war.

Now that I am tutoring high school students in Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry, however, my thirty-year-old Sharp does not offer me all the functions I would like at my disposal. I have occasionally been using the calculator application on my Verizon HTC Imagio smart phone, but after a heavy two Algebra 2/Trigonometry tutoring session in the evening, without having recharged since morning, the battery comes close to draining.

I have had my eye on the TI-83 Plus but cannot justify the cost, at least not until I start a long time tutoring relationship with an Algebra 2/Trigonometry student. Therefore, I recently bought a less expensive Casio fx-260 SOLAR, “the official calculator for use on the GED Series Mathematics Test”. Since I have lately been tutoring a couple GED students, one long term, this seemed to be the calculator to buy.

Short of the graphing capabilities of the TI-83 Plus, the Casio fx-260 SOLAR offers me all the computational power I will probably ever need, and more than I will ever use. With tax, it cost me $10.33 at Staples, a lot less than a TI-83 Plus, and nearly a fourth of the price of my first Commodore Minuteman that did nothing but add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Although I will carry and use the Casio fx-260 SOLAR when I tutor, I will keep that thirty-year old indestructible Sharp next to my checkbook for occasional balancing. Sometimes, though, I wish I still had that original Commodore Minuteman to use as a paperweight and to remind me of what used to be.

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