Thank you, dear Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus
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Thank you, dear Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus

Livia Gamper
Zurich, on 07.02.2018
Pictures: David Lee
Translation: Eva Francis
Why do calculators still exist? Smartphones are smaller and just as good, aren’t they? My answer: Because I’m not allowed to take my smartphone to semester exams. Before writing this article, I wondered if smartphone apps really perform as well as my calculator. Today, I know: The Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus is a fantastic device.

Calculators are annoying; they create loads of problems that didn’t exist in times when exams were calculator-free.

Then again, they’re rather handy devices. Especially if you’re taking maths exams at uni. I’m studying economics; getting the TI-84 Plus calculator was a recommendation by my professor. So I did. That was over two years ago. The TI-84 Plus is a graphic calculator that’s packed with functionality.

Maths and I have never been a good match. I’ve struggled a lot with maths in the past – just like I did with my new calculator. I attended a preparatory course before my studies because I was so bad at maths. That’s where I was introduced to the TI-84. The TI-84 Plus can do almost anything. Ok, anything except gaming Snake. How cool would that have been?

Error, error and another error

In the course of my degree, I was forced to take a course in business informatics; a discipline that requires calculating a minimum or a maximum value as part of most tasks. Mathematicians know: It’s all about setting equations equal to zero. So far so good. To do this, the TI-84 Plus has a function called «Solver». However, when I gave this function a go, the Solver didn’t solve any of my problems, but created new ones. «Syntax error» appeared on the screen every time I tried to solve an equation. I was doing something wrong. I started from scratch. New response: «Equivalent Error». Another error.

The only reason I didn’t sling the calculator out of the window was that it cost me a small fortune.

Reading is a helpful skill – even in maths

That’s how I felt towards my new calculator for months – until I read the user manual. That was the moment when I realised what the TI-84 Plus likes and what it doesn’t, that it matters which minus sign you put in front of a number and where the brackets go. And much more.

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You can’t count on the TI-84 Plus when you need to make a phone call.

I faced a maths exam this semester. This time, it was all about derivations, integrals and equations. Having failed previously, I spent hours preparing. The exam took place on a Saturday morning – who on earth would schedule a maths test for a Saturday morning?!

Lucky me

My preparation couldn’t have been much better: I worked through a few exercises on Friday afternoon and I drank a lot of water – as I was told to.

But then, all of a sudden, I accidentally tipped over my glass of water and spilt it onto – what else – my calculator.

Several scenarios shot through my mind. The first one was: The TI-84 Plus is a programmable calculator. I received programs from my professor and fellow students and installed these programs on my calculator. And I used them extensively. I was familiar with programs such as the fool proof tool for solving quadratic equations.

«Now it’s all down the drain», was my second thought. «Hours before I’m supposed to take an exam…Nooooooo.» And then: «How am I supposed to get a new calculator within a few hours?» After deciding not to panic, I carefully dried the TI-84 Plus off with a towel.

That’s when I discovered that a small miracle had occurred: It still worked. Unbelievable. The TI-84 Plus was calculating along quite merrily – as if nothing had happened. As if it hadn’t even noticed my attempt to drown in it water.

What happened after that? I took the exam. The calculator worked a treat. And it still does.

Thank you, TI-84 Plus. We used to be enemies, now we’re friends. Do you have any calculator stories to share with us? Let us know by commenting below. :)

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Livia Gamper
Livia Gamper
Junior Editor, Zurich
Testing devices and gadgets is my thing. Some experiments lead to interesting insights, others to demolished phones. I’m hooked on series and can’t imagine life without Netflix. In summer, you’ll find me soaking up the sun by the lake or at a music festival.

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