||Company: Texas Instruments|
|Platform: Palm of your hand
Street Price: $42.50
|Cred Rating:||Special Award:|
Neo-Luddite Tech Solution
[Street Tech Writing Contest Winner: Dan Nygren is one of the winners of our latest writing contest. He submitted the following ode to his ancient (by tech standards) Texas Instruments TI-68 calculator. Will Dan take home the Grand Prize? Tune in to Street Tech on March 20th to find out.]
Everyone needs a calculator. The calculator I've relied on for the past ten years is the TI-68 Professional Scientific Calculator. I call it a "Programmer's Calculator" because it does the one thing I need the most as a programmer: converting hexadecimal to decimal and back again.
My history with calculators began with the venerable TI-30 whose NiCd battery pack gave up the ghost at the start of my first college quiz. This prompted me to upgrade to the TI-55 II whose "II" designation was evidently for the number of keystrokes that were recorded with one button press. The sticky keypad forced me to buy another TI-55 II mid-semester that soon developed the same
problem. (I bought the same model because I was harried enough not
to want to learn a new way of doing the same old things.)
I had both calculators replaced for free by Texas Instruments with TI-55
IIIs which did not inherit the bad genes of their forefathers. The
TI-55 III lasted till grad school. It was then that I saw the TI-68 and
began lusting after it. Like a new pack of pencils or a freshly printed textbook, a new calculator always stirred my academic instincts.
The TI-68 met my requirements list:
1) Hex --> Dec --> Hex. All the other programmer features were gravy:
octal, binary, and, or, not, & xor.
2) Similar to the TI scientific calculators I was weaned on
(i.e. trig, logarithms, complex numbers, statistics, integration,
etc.). The TI-68 also added a simultaneous equation solver and
polynomial root finder.
3) Long battery life, and not solar-powered. I'd seen some poor slobs with
solar calculators get in big trouble in a test conducted in a dimly
lit auditorium. Batteries for me please. The TI-68 has phenomenal
battery life. I've only had to replace its single lithium cell once! (about seven years ago). Because the battery door was very
loose, I put a seam of Krazy Glue across the edge, and haven't
had to break out the X-Acto knife yet.
4) Compact. The TI-68 fits into the calculator pocket in my
briefcase with room to spare.
5) Inexpensive. A new TI-68 cost me around US$65. TI's website says
the TI-68 has recently been discontinued, but when I called, they said they still had new ones for sale at $42.50 each. Used ones are, of course, sold on eBay. (Note to auction trollers: the TI-68 was also available in a slightly festive color scheme as the Radio Shack EC-4044.) Hey if you have a Palm or iPaQ, more power to you, but I still prefer a calculator to a calculator
emulator. If you do buy a used one and need a manual, or simply
want to see if a TI-68 will meet your needs, one is available at:
The TI-68 has other features that weren't part of my requirements:
1) Programmability. The TI-68 isn't programmable per se. You can
enter formulas that will prompt you for data to be entered into a
previously defined equation, but that's about it. My TI-55 was
crudely programmable, but I never used the feature. If I write a
program, I use a computer, not a calculator.
2) Graphing. It looks great in advertisements, but isn't a
requirement for me.
3) Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). I'm certainly not anti-RPN. One of
my criteria was cost, and HP calculators were always too expensive
for a cheapskate like me. I regularly program in stack-based languages
like PostScript, and the idea of an inexpensive Forth-based
calculator has intrigued me. (Chuck Moore are you listening?)
All in all the TI-68 has been a loyal servant. Its equation
editing and scrolling features, plus the ability to recall the last equation
and last answer displayed, save me considerable time. There is nothing it
can't do that I want from a calculator. I did get that gleam in my eye
when the TI-89 and TI-92 came out. These 68000 microprocessor-powered beauties made me think about retiring the TI-68, but on closer inspection, I was surprised to see they didn't have the programmer functions on the keyboard. I know I could program these in and access them from menus, but I want something
with simplicity and economy of keystrokes, like the TI calculators I learned on, especially my trusty TI-68.
- Dan Nygren [3/13/01]
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