Monday, February 14, 2011

Beautiful Impossible Math Thing

This calculator has a lot of keys
and the software was developed in France.
It comes with no instructions. Your best chance
is to embrace France and try hard to please

the mysteries French thought managed to squeeze
into this pretty thing. Trip out and trance,
let the Muses here take you to their dance.
You can’t work them. Their goods you cannot seize.

Once a French girl asked me to join her cult.
She was fun to talk to and wore her shirt,
without a bra, unbuttoned at the top.

I didn’t join. Her pitch ground to a halt.
She found someone else to lean toward and flirt.
This machine wants me. So far it won’t stop.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I’m not recommending this machine. It’s just so Byzantine and freaky and weird that nobody in their right mind, really, would want to use it. I mean, if you leave it off for a few days and turn it on you have to wait for its operating system to load. It’s calculator with an operating system. It handles lists, but you must write your own MemberQ function. It sorts lists, but if you want to sort inside a function you must write your own sort routine. It has a big screen, but since it insists on doing two or three things at once, you often only get a tiny section of the screen to work on. And so on. Endlessly.

All that having been said, a few months ago I bought one. They cost less than $200, and along with the handheld you get an emulator version that runs on a computer and which can link to the handheld to share data.

Now, if you like weird stuff—weird math stuff, weird handheld technology stuff, weird French stuff—then this is the kind of thing to look at. I mean, heck, some of the stuff this little machine can do—if you can figure out how to persuade it to do anything—are things that even Mathematica cannot directly do, I’m thinking of the Cabri geometry application. (The handheld has a variation of Cabri built-in.)

So there you go. It’s a world to itself. It doesn’t really work like a computer and it doesn’t really work like a calculator but, in its own way, it does work and it’s not an entirely unpleasant world.

It’s just a world apart.

(FYI: I find the ten year old or more documentation to my old TI-92 very helpful in getting this state-of-the-art little device to do things.)

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