Posted by Cameron @ 4:59 am on March 1st 2011

LeWorld is Rather Remarkable

I belatedly realized that I needed a calculator today so after quick stop by a gas station to try my luck, I ended up in my local Walmart. I was in a bit of hurry so I asked a very nice lady where I could find the calculators and was pleasantly surprised when it was much closer than where I would have gone if I didn’t ask. I made my way to the aisle and pondered my options. Because it looked to be a familiar style, I grabbed a Casio that was priced at $4.97 and was just about to double back to the registers when I noticed something on the top shelf that had exactly the same features like memory recall but was priced at a mere dollar. I quickly exchanged the one that was priced five times higher and headed out.

As I sat admiring my new purchase a few minutes later, I was struck by just how amazing this little piece of hardware really was. It’s about 20% bigger than a credit card and is encased in a rather attractive translucent case. This translucency allowed me to notice the interior guts of the calculator and got me thinking. Within the price point of a dollar, this little device had somehow managed to include an eight digit liquid crystal display, a little solar panel, a battery, a pcb board with attached cables from the buttons to the board and from the board to the screen, a system of buttons and a backing for them that transmits their signal and of course actual calculator microchip itself. It doesn’t have the largest of screens or the biggest battery and the whole device is only about half an inch thick at the thickest point. Yet it’s got nice soft buttons that do things accurately on the screen when I press them. Yet somehow, this marvel was able to be sold to me for a dollar.

That dollar includes all of the hardware physically inside of it. It also includes the cost of all of those who handled this device on its journey to me. Aside from manufacturing and the initial assembly, portions of that dollar were spent on transporting this all the way across the Pacific and then inland from container box to semi truck to the back area of Walmart where someone actually unpacked it and put it on the shelf for me to buy. This was all done for less than 100 pennies. Think about that for a moment.

Ain’t modern life grand?

I’ve attached a few photos below for your amusement. Please don’t hesitate to say hello to the first one:

And the translucent rear with handy labels:
Labled Reverse

I was actually intrigued enough to google the brand and stumbled across a site with a minor tear-down of the calculator that shows the guts a bit more clearly.


  1. To say nothing of the fact that the device you bought for a dollar exceeds the computational capacity of the computers used for the first moon landing.

    You’re referring to the miraculous nature of capitalism, the subject of my very first post in this forum. Apparently, back in those halcyon days, I used to toss out references to early imperial Rome in my posts with the same nonchalant ease that I now reserve for swear words and amusingly-captioned pictures of kittens. What the hell happened to me?

    For those uninterested in clicking the link, it references the famous essay “I, Pencil” and my favorite example of the phenomenon to which Cameron refers. The different kinds of produce used in a common dinner salad do not grow in close proximity; all require meticulous cultivation, expensive irrigation in areas where water is scarce, fertilizers in an era of declining phosphorous availability, and numerous other production inputs including abundant physical labor. The entire ensemble then has to be brought together via an industrial shipping process involving imported oil and further labor costs; then we get to the stage at which it is shipped to the restaurant and attractively packaged by a still third set of laborers and delivered in still-plausibly-fresh form directly to your table. And not just when the vegetables are in season–also in the middle of winter, if you please.

    We are dealing here with a culinary delicacy the likes of which was unavailable to industrialists, emperors, or indeed anyone else on earth prior to roughly the year 1900. What is the cost of this miracle? They throw it in free with your meal.

    We take this sort of thing for granted. We really, really, really shouldn’t.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/1/2011 @ 10:34 am

  2. Your point is well-taken, Rojas, and I share your awe that such things are possible. However, I suggest that not all of the costs of that dinner salad (or calculator) are, in fact, fully accounted for in that price. The environmental impact of irrigating farmland, forcing crops to grow out of season and in unfavorable areas, transporting materials over long distances, etc. are not always paid in dollars up front. Desertification, salt contamination of good soil, overfertilization, pollution, depletion of oil reserves, and such issues may have significant deferred costs.

    We can grow stuff for a pretty impressive dinner salad in our own yard, using collected rainwater and recycled water from the washing machine (processed via an artificial marsh), and incur few of those costs.

    I’m not saying that it isn’t magnificent that I can get fruits I’ve never heard of from all over the world whenever I want them by going down to the grocery store. Modern technology and industrialization has undoubtedly improved my quality of life by orders of magnitude. I’m under no illusions that I can be self-sustaining in my yard without hours and hours of difficult labor, and I benefit from all of the advances you mention as much as anyone.

    I’m just suggesting that the fact that the dinner salad made with exotic, out-of-season fruits and vegetables from Chile may include deferred costs which are not immediately apparent, but which will have consequences over time.

    Comment by Talarohk — 3/1/2011 @ 2:10 pm

  3. Hippie.

    Comment by Rojas — 3/1/2011 @ 3:11 pm

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