Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Old calculations

Recently, I came across the chemistry notes of my girlfriend. I immediately recalled my firsts chemistry lessons in high school. In a place where a even a pocket calculator was banned from math and physics courses, the brazen idea of using a scientific calculator in the chemistry class was very exciting. Having keys with cryptic labels like hyp, exp, deg, hex, etc. used to create a halo of intellectual mystery around the gadget, hinting that were mathematics far beyond my current understanding. But the real breathtaking, admired and feared objects were the programmable calculators. Those hybrids between a scientific calculator and a computer, where you could code your own routines using BASIC. I learned the basics of coding in one of them, the Casio FX-880P. I was 15 at that time and I admit that I became a real geek on those grounds. Probably, I read the user's manual almost completely. I coded dozens of small routines from simple math calculations to a baseball game. How nice was to have that little computer in my exams! Chemistry definitely didn't need such amount of computer power. Although I coded a game that asked randomly from the symbols of the elements in the periodic table. That was a fun way of memorizing all of them! However, when it came to my high school statistics course, my little computer was a luxurious advantage that allowed me the cross-check my results. That's nothing amazing. Most pocket calculators can give you the mean and standard deviation. However, what we were asked in the exam was to count the frequency of occurrence of nearly 200 numbers in given intervals. So it seemed that the easiest way was to sort them first. Such a horrible time consuming task! But thanks to my secret weapon and the code that I wrote, I just had to wait until all the results were nicely displayed on the screen. What a glorious moment that was! I think you can call that "cheating". But I have to say, it was elegant and clever cheating. The same kind of deeds that you enjoy when you watch in Ocean's eleven movie!

These days my little computer lies in some drawer. Its moments of glory belong in the past.
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