The Crutch, Part I

Like many students taking college level math, I use the trusty TI-83 calculator. It has a nice stats package built right in, but it's not what I'd call user friendly. The inputs it needs to work its demon magic and spit out binomial distributions, factorials, and cumulative probabilities are not prompted - you have to memorize the input format, and enter the correct arguments, separated by commas, for it to work. The instruction manual that comes with the TI-83 explains it all, but in a format so dry that it makes C++ programming guides look like beach reading.

To further complicate matters I never had the manual for the one I have. My TI-83 became mine after it had failed someone else...

I was working in the all-night lab one night about 4 years ago. It was around 4:30 in the morning, and just after midterms. A sleepy looking kid, one of my regulars, came up to me at the lab assistant's desk and said, "You want this?" He was holding out a slightly battered TI-83. I looked up, puzzled, and assumed that he had just found it and was turning it in to our lost and found.

"Sure, I'll put it in the lost and found."

He shook his head. "It's not lost - it's mine."

By then I had already taken it from him, so I paused, holding it awkwardly between us. "What do you... I mean... ok, I'm confused." I set it on the desk.

"I don't need it anymore. I'm changing majors. Engineering kicked my ass." With that, he walked away.

I stared at the thing. Like any good liberal arts major, I eyed the black, brick-like machine in much the same way the Spanish Inquisition viewed astronomical instruments. It was a heretical wizard's engine, and I wanted no part of it. Not only was it a tool intended mostly for minions of the hard sciences, it was also the calculator of a failed student. Despite the late hours he had put into his line of study, he'd been beaten by it. It seemed tainted in some way, like the psychic remnants of his dream of becoming an engineer lingered about it. In truth, it was probably his parents' dream that he become an engineer, but no matter. Someone's dream had broken upon its plastic carapace, and it felt of the grave.

Still, it was an expensive calculator, and I figured the kid would get some sleep, realize what he'd done, and come back for it. I stuck it in the seldom-used front pocket of my backpack, figuring I'd see him in the next few nights and give it back to him.

In that front pocket it sat - for two years. I never saw its former owner again. Freed of his engineering burden, he may have fled the state, for all I know. The calculator stayed there, in fact, until I finally bought a new backpack, and then it was relegated to a shelf in my room. I referred to it as "that kid's calculator" but slowly I came to think of it as the "calculator of failure." It was a doomed calculator, a "+2 calculator of angst" if you will. Like any good cursed magical item, it sat on a shelf collecting dust, awaiting its next victim.

Fast forward to last semester, day one of STATS 2070. The syllabus stated, "a scientific calculator is required." For a moment I dreaded going to the bookstore and getting reamed for about $100, but then I remembered that I had the cursed calculator. I went home, found it, and dusted it off.

[Next Installment: Does a set of new batteries suffice for an exorcism?]

5 comments:

Mackenzie said...

I hate to reveal my origins, but shouldn't it be a "-2 calculator of angst"?

His Sinfulness said...

You are absolutely right, Mackenzie. I wrote it that way initially, but I was afraid that the joke was too old and too AD&D nerdy for anyone to get... ;)

Mackenzie said...

And yet, it's one of the first things that caught my eye. You can apparently be assured that at least one person can be relied on to connect with the old and nerdy content.

Also, check out a TI-95 sometime. They're insane.

Anonymously Lost said...

I really like this post HSBP.

His Sinfulness said...

I hope you like part II... :)

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