Thursday, October 28, 2004


for an engineer a calculator seems to be some type of status symbol. It is much comparable to how a jock needs to drive the biggest truck, or fastest car to make up for his inadequiasies. (bad spelling day). such it is with the engineer and his calculator. Many prefer the TI89, or one with a keyboard the TI92. then those that are stuck in the ancient HP camp like me, owning an HP48 or the more modern HP49 that seems to be the exact same thing with 2 lines of the OS updated. so while these calculators can cost around $150 they don't really make you smarter.

I'll give you an example. I took and passed my professional engineering exam from the state of california with a $15 walmart calculator, the Casio FX-1115MS. any where in the the entire US you are not allowed to use ANY of the name brand calculators found above to take the exam. (except for the 15$ one).

Why you ask? does it make the work easier, does it make me smarter? none of these are the issue. with a modern calculator it is possible to COPY the exam questions and then take them with you when you leave (a serious offense). you see the brain dead people that come up with the questions spend much time on them they don't want to repeat the same amount of work next year so they RECYCLE questions. if people took the questions, then they couldn't reuse them without the test being unfare to those that just took it because next years attendees would know what the questions are.

The ironic thing is that engineering is one of the most ethical professions yet they STILL have to guard against giving someone a certification that isn't ethical. how about we just allow normal calucators and at the end of the exam the final step is to take a polygraph test, after all, if your that unethical we don't want you in the field anyway.

The exam was great. I now own a 15$ calculator that I like better than my 150$ one. why? because its cheep and does all I need for day to day work. If I have somthing big to solve I use a COMPUTER. with the advancements in microelectronics I doubt theres any reason to continue on with the whole advanced calculator idea. the next generation will probalby just be a PDA running maple, matlab, and spice. why do crap approximations when you can just punch your variables in and let it simulate the whole thing. and you get to learn the tools you'll be using in industry instead of how to punch numbers in 'normal' or RPN style.

Its probably the calulator industry that is responsible for myopicness in the engineers.

To actually learn how to do math a calculator is about as worthless as it comes. it does not reinforce key concepts, or memorizaton of fast apprximations, it reinforces ASKING for the answer. there isn't always an answer! at times a crap approximation is all that is needed or possible. yeah yeah.. you super geeks out there will say there is ALWAYS an answer. yeah, there is, but yours will probably be way different than mine. we all make approximations and assumptions about a problem. if you dont' believe me then you have never tried to get $ values signed off by managment or finance. they can come up with the screwiest math to justify a $5 purchase I have ever seen.

keep on calcin


forkev said...

well stated.
as a reinforcement of your theory, my MOST USED calculators are start > run > calc in windows, and the DEFAULT calculator on my pda. yeah, it's got some monster calcs and some convertion calcs for heavy stuff (on the pda) but those get used infrequently.

why? because they are convenient.

i can't stand a group of people standing around in small groups calculating how long it's gonnda take to print 688 pages, duplex, at an average speed of 22 pages per minute and then adding in some paper lift time.
please just sit down at the nearest computer and use the calculator. duh.

palegreenhorse said...

hehehe calculators. the current students are stuck to them. teachers let them use them early on and they never do learn how to use them or do math without them. so we are going to end up with a bunch of people who can't do math. reminds me of a story by asimov called the feeling of power which was about people who couldn't do something as simple as 2*3. actually i read the story in a book of short stories called Nine Tomorrows which had at least a couple other stories that are interesting in respect to our dependence on computers.
personally i think everyone would be better off if they forced kids to learn how to use slide rules (i have long thought of learning how to use one myself) and only let people use calculators once they passed college. oh i know that is rediculous and that most people in the world can't figure out how to add 1+9 correctly. so maybe a more reasonable goal is to make all college students learn how to use and not use a calculator and how to estimate.
i can't wait to see what the world is like by the time we are 50.

mari said...

have you ever heard of a round mechanical calculator?