Calculator Obsession

I’ve always been prone to the odd geeky obsession. Some last, some don’t. Pens, fortunately, seems to be lasting pretty well, otherwise my job would be getting a bit tedious. The whole Interweb thing has kept a long appeal for me. Every now and then I have a recurring obsession with text editors, especially the really painful ones to use. I’m writing this in Emacs now, but I spend just as much time obsessing over Vim. It’s all part of being a bit of a wannabe geek.

I recently developed one of these obsessions over calculators, and it’s a tricky one to explain. Yes, I studied maths and further maths at A-Level, but I’ve not done anything much with it since then, and I don’t know how to use most of the features on the calculators I’m obsessing over. That doesn’t seem to stop me at all, though.

So what’s the appeal?

  • They are genuinely useful – sometimes at work I have to quote prices for people, so being able to do a quick calculation can be helpful. Yes, I could use Windows Calculator or Excel, but a handy pocket or desktop calculator is quicker.
  • There are big differences between different calculators, and although most people can (and probably do) use one, they don’t care about the functionality or quality at all. There’s a bit of a common theme with pens here. Everyone uses pens, but most people don’t care which pen, or how it feels to use it.
  • There’s something very geeky about scientific calculators, and that appeals to my sad little inner geek. I can’t remember how to do calculus, or even why I might want to, but there’s still some strange appeal to using a calculator that could, if I ever remembered.

I don’t use many of the actual scientific functions on any of these calculators, so you’d probably think they have no real advantage to me over a cheap and simple calculator, but there are features that an expensive scientific calculator has that actually help with basic stuff too…

  • Good quality buttons. A cheap calculator has cheap buttons, which may not register every click correctly, and may edit out some of your clicks in an attempt to correct for those dodgy keys. A really good calculator should let you hit the numbers as fast as you can, and you should know from feel if they registered or not. It’s much the same as a decent computer keyboard against a cheap phone keypad.
  • A big screen can be easier to read, and can give you other advantages, like being able to see previous calculations, or at least the calculation you entered to get the current result.
  • Some good scientific calculators will also let you go back to the previous calculation and edit it, and in some cases you can go back several steps. This can be handy if you find you now need the same result with a different starting figure.
  • Equation Solver. Most high-end calculators will have one of these, though some are more useful than others. What it means is that you can, for example, enter the formula for getting the markup percentage from the buying price and selling price, then enter any two figures, and let it solve for the third.
  • Build quality. A cheap calculator may last a while, maybe a year or more. Some of the calculators I’m playing with at the moment have been around since the 80s, and are still working just fine.

So, it’s a geeky little obsession, but I enjoy it, and it has a few practical uses – not such a bad thing, really.

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