Sitting here at my laptop, like I do most of the time, I see the same stuff on my desk day and night. Occasionally I clean it, but most of the time it’s a mess of the highest order.
If I walked away from my desk, I probably wouldn’t remember what I have on it. I suppose it’s one of those “I remember it like the back of my hand” moments, when you really have no clue what the back of your hand actually looks like. It’s familiar, why would your brain need to remember it anyway?
So, the other day I gave this some serious thought: What item do I have in my life that I, a) can’t live without, b) I take totally for granted and c) I’ve had for a long time.
First thought was my Swiss Army knife. I’ve had that for many years, I take it for granted, but I could live without it. Second thought was my wallet; I take it for granted, but I’ve only had it for a couple of years and, to be honest, I leave it at home most of the time, stashing cash and credit cards into my back pocket. What about my laptop? Nope, I never take it for granted (after seeing the death of many a good computer). My cellphone? Nope, I get through so many phones it’s not funny.
So what else is there? Could I really coast around life without that vital item? Is there anything that fulfils a), b) and c)?
Then I saw it.
The one thing that has sat on my desk for nearly two decades, ready for action, always reliable, necessary, but woefully taken for granted. My Casio fx-82D (FRACTION no less), my first, and only, scientific calculator…
I’m going to start this story with an interesting fact. To my recollection, I’ve only replaced the battery twice. I received my fx-82D some time between 1989 and 1992 for a birthday from my parents, and being a budding scientist I was overwhelmed (it is a scientific calculator after all). So nearly two decades later, to remember replacing the battery twice is astounding.
It’s not as if I haven’t used it very much either. Not only do I have a problem with numbers, mental arithmetic comes hard, so I have to use trusty old Casio for pretty much everything.
I remember calculating my shopping budget in 1998 during my first week at university; I remember using it to calculate the number of holes there were in the ceiling tile above my head during a particularly boring religious education class in school (I remember being amazed that there were 40×64 = 2560 holes); then there’s the countless exams, thousands of hours sitting in the library studying for finals (instinctively I just used Casio to quickly calculate how many hours there were in a year, just in case the “thousands” of hours in the library didn’t sound reasonable) and huge amounts of time debugging calculations in thousands of lines of code during my PhD.
I may have achieved a lot in my academic life, but a huge portion of my success is down to the countless key strokes on my fx-82D.
She’s also been my partner in crime on a few occasions.
Did I really just say “she”?
There’s a funny story from my days in college when I was studying for my A Level in physics. For some strange reason, I couldn’t remember unit prefixes (such as the value of nano, micro and pico)…
In my defence, the bulky “graphical” calculators that were popping up in school pencil cases that my classmates were using had functions that could automatically abbreviate the exponential number into a unit. So I didn’t feel so bad scoring a mini conversion chart into the aluminium casing with my compass in the front of the calculator. To this day, you can read:
m-3 μ-6 η-9 ρ-12 f-15
It almost looks like mini hieroglyphics. In truth, I don’t think I ever had to use it in an exam situation, but at least I know it’s there, just in case.
All in all my Casio fx-82D FRACTION has been my constant, reassuring mass of two-decade-old microchips, printed circuit boards and basic liquid crystal display. She’s developed with my in my personal mathematical development and calculated everything from shopping lists to complex partial differential equations. She’s shared my voyage of calculating the density of pubs per person in my university town, to arriving at a solution for the final temperature state of my simulated quiescent coronal loops just before I handed in my PhD thesis for review.
If the last two decades are anything to go by, I wonder just how much longer I’ll be using this calculator. Is it the item I hand down to my grandkids? Or, like the Hubble Space Telescope, eventually need too much refurbishment to continue being of much use and then decommissioned?
Did I really just compare my Casio to Hubble?
Long may she continue being that one item I can’t live without, I take for granted and long may she continue to calculate equations no matter how complex or routine.