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My home is a technological sinkhole where cellphones never last as long as the contracts that accompany them, MP3 players require near-annual replacement, and top-of-the-line, parts-available-only-in-Germany appliances outlive their warranties by mere days.
The lifespan of my electronic gadgets is inversely proportional to my ability to afford to replace them. I know this because I had a wonderful calculator to figure it out.
That piece of pocket equipment was not like any of the things I use now. It was a friend, an assistant – a colleague even. It had been in the family for 30 years, along with its original battery.
Idle apps did not suck the life out of it before noon. Its manufacturer did not make a new and improved version every six months. It didn’t clandestinely download data-consuming program updates every few hours. It was perfection without the planned obsolescence.
Tragically, my Texas Instruments TI-66 programmable calculator blinked its last LCD number this week.
The 66 was a gift from my boyfriend when we were both in university (I don’t much care about jewellery). The calculator is high on my list of all-time favourite gifts – right up there with the Root Cyclone vacuum cleaner his hockey teammates told him I would hate – and is probably the reason I agreed to marry him.
He had been using his 66 for a year, and I coveted it. First-year linear algebra was kicking my butt, and I was sure that if the 66 could help him with his engineering homework, it could certainly help me.
With its grey-and-white buttons covered in letters and symbols, this metal and plastic wonder promised to be my saviour.
Pi was a key right on the thing. No more entering 3.14159 and hoping I had used enough decimal places to get a reasonably accurate answer to whatever question required such idiocy.
This marvel could figure out logarithms and their inverses, trigonometric functions and radicals.
Today, I couldn’t even tell you what an inverse logarithm is, much less use a calculator to figure one out. At the time, though, the 66 was very useful.
Once I’d read the accompanying thick instruction booklet I could program my algebra, calculus and statistics homework questions into it and be assured of a helpful answer.
Whenever I pushed that cosine button or the sigma-plus key, it almost felt as if I was cheating. And I would have been if I had used it during my exams (depending how young and cool the professor was).
Now, I know that if I turn my smartphone sideways when using the calculator app I can get a more advanced calculator, but I’ve never had a use for it.
Over the years, the depth of my mathematical queries has sunk from complicated calculus to “what is a 20-per-cent tip for this meal?”
This numerical stagnation has made it very difficult for me to withhold an honest answer when faced with my daughter’s inevitable lament, “When am I ever gonna use calculus in real life?”
My husband pilfered my beloved 66 several years ago, long after graduation, after his own passed away from a nasty fall.
While the calculator still bears my initials, painted on with Wite-Out, he’s added his own flair to our now-shared 66. He taped a pipe-sizing chart and a sticky note with volume and efficiency formulae to its back.
Currently on inactive duty, the 66 sits on my desk right between the computer mouse, which of course loses its charge much faster than it should, and the wireless router that is forever dropping its signal.
I’m hoping that all the nearby electronica will be shamed by the 66’s spirit of endurance and superior construction, and try harder to live up to those standards.
On a shelf in our home office is a pile of chargers, electrical cords, coloured cables, printer cartridges and assorted other electronic detritus destined for the recycling depot. I don’t seem to have the detachment necessary to put the 66 there.
This piece of academic nostalgia reminds me that I really did go to university, and really was able to solve some complicated questions – even if I never did use the answers in my life.
It’s a memento of the intelligent discussions my husband and I used to have, the academic and financial struggles we endured, and the fun we had trying to outsmart each other.
We have lovingly stored boxes of family photographs, baby clothes and dried-pasta artwork. Would it be wrong to put the 66 with those?
Jean Godawa lives in Toronto.
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