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Who uses scientific calculators?

  1. Dec 15, 2016 #1
    Who uses scientific calculators, aside from students and teachers? Engineers and physicists, I suppose. Maybe mathematicians too.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2016 #2


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    "Who" as a class, or who personally?
  4. Dec 15, 2016 #3

    Stephen Tashi

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    By the standards of days past, I use scientific calculators to do simple arithmetic - because the average cheap calculator nowadays is a scientific calculator by those standards. Who uses scientific calculators by higher standards ( graphing calculators, programmable calculators etc.) is a different question.
  5. Dec 15, 2016 #4


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    I think most engineers and scientists would use matlab as they would be dealing with fairly large amounts of data. I could see someone spot checking calculations but not detailed analysis.

    Programmers sometimes use them to do quick units conversions or binary math on hex or octal or sometimes even base 2 especially xor stuff.
  6. Dec 15, 2016 #5
    Not much use for mathematicians. They either don't do work involving computations at all,or so many that it would require a computer.
    I didn't know this before I was a math major. When I enrolled in bought a kickass graphing calculator. I wasn't allowed to use it in lower level classes and it had no relevance to the upper level classes.
    But I'm doing more stats these days...
  7. Dec 15, 2016 #6
    IMO - professionals use MatLab and other SW for more complex issues, as well as the plotting and data reporting - real work problems are rarely a "single answer".. The Point of a scientific calc today is that it limits your resources, and the users understanding is clear - i.e. for Education use only. For basic cals I use my phone -- all of the same scientific functions are there.
  8. Dec 15, 2016 #7
    I use a scientific calculator from time to time. Sometimes I do not want to have a laptop with MATLAB, or fortran, or C compiler on my lap. My phone does not give me the kind of positive key action my HP calculator does. A phone is just not as comfortable. In addition, when you use a calculator some years, you know where all the keys are.

    There is one problem though. Calculators lately have crammed more and more functions per key and made the screen graphing, and added a lot of features that should belong to computers. One of my favorite calculators was HP-15. It had the right balance of features, and could truly fit in a shirt pocket without bulging.
    You could program it, but I more often programmed computers when I wanted something large. Unfortunately HP-15's are dying of old age lately.

    Even when HP-15's were prevalent there were more powerful programmable calculators out but none could match the portability and size, when you needed a quick answer.
  9. Dec 15, 2016 #8
    The situation seems similar with financial calculators - used for classes and tests, but real financial work is done with Excel or maybe specialized software. They're still kind of nifty though.
  10. Dec 15, 2016 #9


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    I used my ti89 to score soccer game stats. Some parents thought the coach was playing a game while kids played soccer and used to complain about it until their kids told them what i was doing.

    The program generated running stats based on simple input. Each time the ball was tapped by a player id hit a key to indicate which side. Each time a goal was made i did the same thing.

    The program would calculate how many successful passes resulted in a goal. Basically if the team could pass it three times in a row they had a 1 in 5 chance of making a goal. If only 2 times it was 1 in 15 tries to make a goal.

    I thought of expanding it to study ball placement on the field but the kids graduated to a travel team and it was driving all over Texas.
  11. Dec 15, 2016 #10


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    Today though id use my iphone and pythonista to code the app. It would be a piece of cake to tap on the field and record ball play for future study of attack methods.

    Teams with right footed forwards tended to circulate the ball counterclockwise around the field. For lefties it was clockwise. When there was a mix the ball would ping pong around on one side.

    But if a team had a good lefty and righty striker pair they devastated the field zig zagging down to the goal to score.

    But i digress...
  12. Dec 15, 2016 #11
    I used mine since the 8th grade, now I'm in grad school. I've recently realized that its usually much better to type whatever I want to know into my wolfram alpha app on my smartphone rather than try to punch it into my ti-84, because wolfram often includes other useful information like plots or unit conversions, and it can interpret misspelled or hastily written commands accurately. But I can type really fast on the TI so if I want to do a quick calculation I'll use it.

    I've also got a giant book full of "mathematical functions, tables, and transforms" that I got at goodwill for 4 dollars, but it has also since gone the way of the slide rule and been outdated by technology. Wolfram alpha has all of that stuff at the click of a button and it can be accessed from something as small as a cell phone.
  13. Dec 15, 2016 #12


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    I have several scientific calculators, one of which I use to reconcile my checking account each month. I use the calculator app on my desktop computer for most simple calculations. My cellphone, which I've had for about 15 years (really!) has a calculator on it, but I never use it. The only thing I use my phone for is to make calls, maybe five in a year. I only rarely even turn it on. If a device doesn't have a nice keyboard that I can use both hands on, it's not for me.
  14. Dec 15, 2016 #13


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    Don't knock the slide rule! When your batteries fail and you're out in the wilderness or on a deserted isle who ya gonna call? Bill Murray?

    The slide rule is an awesome invention right up there with the pencil. It works under extreme conditions with few moving parts and no battery to overheat and catch fire automatically rounding to 3 significant figures or maybe 4 depending on how good your eyesight is.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2016
  15. Dec 15, 2016 #14
    I suppose calculators were used more before personal computers became standard.

    I use the calculator in my cellphone at the store to compare unit prices. For example at Walmart the toothpaste price tags don't have the per oz. price, and they're all different irregular sizes so you can't compare prices.
  16. Dec 16, 2016 #15
    I pop up a calculator on my computer once in a while, but usually I am using other software tools. When teaching, I prefer a simple multi-purpose graphing program. Graph.exe is a favorite on Windows.


    The only advantage I see to handheld calculators is in teaching contexts where there is a need or desire to restrict resources to those built into a defined box with limited functionality. Letting students use computers is harder to police in many contexts, and a lot of teachers prefer students not be googling up answers or using tools like Wolfram Alpha.

    This creates the paradox that the only real reason most people use scientific calculators any more is not because of what they CAN do, but because of what they CANNOT do - limited functionality to prevent "cheating" however that is defined in an academic context.
  17. Dec 16, 2016 #16

    Dr Transport

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    I use the HP15c emulator on my phone when teaching class during the day. When I teach math, I only use it for trigonometry functions and logs, I usually stumble thru the square roots because I refuse to pull out the calculator.
  18. Dec 21, 2016 #17


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    As an Elect Engineer I do use an Hp 12c at my desk for general number crunching, nothing sophisticated or advanced. If I do have to do any real number crunching on the back of an envelope so to speak, I dig out my Hp 48sx out of the bottom drawer and use it (maybe 2-3 times a month). I use my 12c quite a bit during the average day, but if I need to document my numbers, I crank out an Excel spreadsheet, often re-using an earlier one and modifying for the new project. My company doesn't have access to anything more sophisticated, although I do have my own, older copy of Mathcad for any serious report work.
    I prefer an Hp 15c or even better an Hp 42s, but losing either would result in my crying for a week, so I just leave an Hp 12c on my desk. I travel with a well worn Hp 32sii for field work or meetings offsite.
  19. Dec 21, 2016 #18
    I didn't know Excel was used for engineering, interesting.
  20. Dec 21, 2016 #19


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    This is really great. I wish more people in technology and sciences thought this way:

  21. Dec 22, 2016 #20
    I inherited one from my dad and I really want to learn how to use it. I always thought it would help me intuitively understand logarithms a bit more.

    -Dave K
  22. Dec 22, 2016 #21


    Staff: Mentor

    Start with the C and D scales. They are used to do basic multiplication. Notice that they both start and end with a 1 marker.

    Recall how you'd use two rulers to do addition. It works the same with sliderules. The magic is in the scales used.

    There are several other scales for doing squares and sqroots and for trig functions too.
  23. Dec 22, 2016 #22


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    I kept a scientific calculator in my pocket all the time several years after earning my undergraduate degree and often used it in the workplace. LCD display, most of the basic functions: log, ln, sin, cos, tan, x^2,square root, 10^x, e, pi, and an inverse key. Battery only needed changing every 2 or 3 years. Basic algebra and some arithmetic I would do on paper. Computations for formulas or other computations with too many digits I would do with the hand held scientific calculator.
  24. Dec 22, 2016 #23
    Slide rules allow you to compare two scales in a way calculators do not. For example you can put 22 on the c-scale to 15 on the d-scale. You can then compare feet per second on the c-scale to miles per hour on the d-scale. I think that seeing things in this manner may enhance thinking "holistically". You see relationships "all at once". It can never hurt to experience all different manners of thinking.
  25. Dec 23, 2016 #24
    Yeah, this is kind of what I was thinking. I believe that mechanical devices like slide rules and abucuses (abaci? I don't know the plural) can really help mathematical intuition.

    -Dave K
  26. Dec 23, 2016 #25


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    The curious thing with abaci are that the chinese one uses two 5 markers and 5 one markers which allows for hexidecimal math whereas the Japanese soroban has 1 5 marker and 4 one markers per digit for decimal math.

    The wiki article on the abacus also mentions that abaci or abacuses plurals are in dispute and are both valid for plural usage.


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