Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In the company of greatness

It is August. You know what that means, don’t you? It is the time when parents of school age kids across the US, in frenzy, plot their first criminal offense of robbing a bank. How else can they stay afloat after buying the foot long supplies’ lists from their kids’ schools? I sympathized with every one of those moms and dads as I walked the aisles of Staples and Office Depot armed with my kids’ back-to-school supplies lists and a cart that looked like a grasshopper colony went overboard with its pre-winter ritual of stocking up food.

In addition to the familiar items on my yearly list of 10 large glue sticks, 6 pack index cards, 6 composition books, 2 pack loose-leaf college-ruled paper(not wide-ruled, mind you), folders with 2 pockets on the sides, 3 2” binders and a dozen #2 HB pencils, I had a new challenge this year.

My high school freshman’s list had a calculator. Not any drugstore calculator. A scientific calculator. The TI-84 Plus Silver Edition. My daughter uttered the name with such reverence that I, in turn, marched to the store and whispered it ever so softly to the store clerk who pleaded stomach flu and ran inside the doors that read ‘FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY’. Realizing that he wasn’t coming out anytime soon, I managed to locate it myself in an aisle filled with even more fantastic gadgets. This calculator, according to the flyer in the aisle, is the next best thing to sharing Albert Einstein’s gene pool as it could handle Trigonometry, Pre-calculus, Geometry, graphing and something else (the name of which eludes me now) that rhymes with suitability. I hope my daughter realizes how lucky she is. She can breeze through her high school years with absolutely no risk of a receding hairline.

Isn’t it just my luck that I had to be born in a decade when such technological advantages were unheard of in schools? While I sat cross-eyed with the strain of squeezing my poor little brain to manually calculate the sin of an angle of 72 degrees two decades ago, the kids in school today can simply punch up a function in this calculator and spit out the answer 0.9510565163 in under a second. Where is fairness, I ask you.

When I finished reading the box I was in awe. The TI-84 Plus sounded smart enough to sit for the SAT exams all by itself and ace them with a 5.0 GPA. Don’t quote me on this, but I think NASA used this palm-sized miracle to calculate Apollo 13’s return to a free return trajectory after the unfortunate accident in space all those years ago.

As I stood there in the aisle holding this calculator in my hand, it struck me. I was in the company of greatness. I held in my hand the century’s most phenomenal invention - a tiny box that held within itself the answers to all the science and math problems that had baffled the toughest minds of my time.

Placing the calculator in the shopping cart with a gentleness usually shown only by a first time dad holding his newborn baby, I joined the long row of parents at the cash counter.