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Why Are Graphing Calculators So Expensive?

In today's world of high-tech gadgets, Texas Instruments' relatively low-tech calculators stand out. Since the ‘90s, laptops have gotten faster and thinner, phones have become more powerful, and watches can pick up Wi-Fi—but the TI-83 graphing calculator, which was launched in 1996, essentially remains frozen in time. With a 6 MHz processor, no rechargable battery, and a screen like an old Game Boy, the TI-83 is far from impressive.

One would think that such outdated technology would eventually become affordable, but the price of a TI-83 or its successor, the cumbersome and only slightly upgraded TI-84 (launched in 2004), cost roughly the same as they did 10 years ago. A TI-83 will set a student back around $100, while the TI-84 still costs more than $100. Most obsolete gadgets lower in price (consider this $10 flip-phone), but the humble graphing calculator continues to boast a hefty price tag. What gives?

It's all about supply and demand.

Graphing calculators are still widely used by students, and schools have strict boundaries for what these gadgets can do. Many curriculums in American math classes require the use of a TI-83 or TI-84 graphing calculator (or its equivalent). The reliable calculators have been part of the classroom for so long, it’s hard to shake them. As Mic reports, many lesson plans revolve around just learning how to work the things—Pearson textbooks feature illustrations of Texas Instruments graphing calculators to help students better understand how to use the devices.

Public school education is notoriously slow to change methods, but even forward-thinking classrooms struggle to escape the grasp of the graphing calculator. Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT have strict rules about what devices students are allowed to use. When trapped within these small confines, teachers have no choice but to teach using the outmoded technology.

According to the College Board, here is a list of graphing calculators allowed into an SAT testing room:

Laptops, phones, and devices that connect to the Internet are obviously prohibited to prevent cheating. While other companies make slightly cheaper approved calculators, most students are pointed towards the TI-83 or TI-84; it's a lot easier to teach with one device instead of many.

When students have no choice but to purchase a calculator from a finite list of options, the sellers can feel free to set their price. According to The Washington Post, Texas Instruments took home 93 percent of U.S. graphing calculator sales between July 2013 and June 2014.

Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis told The Washington Postthat, "[c]ompared to other electronics this day and age there is very little content [in a TI-84 Plus]... Plastic case, small black and white screen, two semiconductor chips. The batteries are even not rechargeable like a cell phone." Curtis estimated that each calculator costs about $15-20 to make. Due to the high market price caused by high demand, he guesses that the company can boast a profit margin of over 50 percent.

As Mic reports, Texas Instruments maintains their monopoly with services like 1-800-TI-CARES and workshops that teach teachers how to use the devices. By cultivating their product as the norm in classrooms, the company is able to keep its stronghold in the market. Smartphones have successfully managed to edge out other gadgets like watches and cameras, but they have no place in a testing environment. For the time being, it looks like students and parents will continue to cough up big bucks for these clunky old calculators.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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