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HP Forum Archive 12

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Thinking of "Minty" new standards. (yeah, it is long)
Message #1 Posted by glynn on 20 Apr 2003, 3:48 a.m.

This comes, in part, from looking at posts from many people here who have laughed-- or cried-- over vendors on eBay who have grossly overstated the condition of machines for sale.

Of course, words like "pristine", "mint", "near-mint", "new in box", and so on are highly subjective. They likely always will be.

Some things that don't really seem subjective at all, like "Works!" and "All segments light up fine", turn out to be very much in the eye of the beholder, as my own experience on eBay finds.

And what is important to me, a calculator User, differs a bit from the priorities of a Collector. That just comes naturally.

How, for instance, would I characterize the extent and severity of the scratches on the brushed aluminum faceplate of my 15c? Well, they are not so noticeable as to draw attention to themselves-- but right now, looking closely at them, I see one wide sort of "buff", one little pock-mark (as if hit by a BB lightly) and a little skinny curved scratch that the light catches well but is not deep enough to be more than a disturbance of the clearcoat on top. No big deal, to me.

If I wished to sell this Near-Mint machine :-) I would thus evaluate its cosmetics differently, probably, from a collector wishing to buy one truly worthy of his collection. And I might not even remember that I had engraved my initials under the left-front foot. Oops.

And so, it seems, we are ALWAYS going to be debating things like what we sent to someone, what the UPS/Post Office did, what we got from someone, and whether anyone should have ever mentioned that segment 3 on digit 4 of that LED calc was dimmer than the rest.

There is, of course, the possibility of some independent evaluation organization. You send your calc to a certified evaluation consultant, who looks it over, puts a grade on it, and then sends it back. You can use the official grade in your advertising or auction, which simply says to the buyer, well, it's not a piece of junk, and as of xx date, it was considered by an authority as meeting this level, having this grade.

Truly, though, sellers are less likely to be convinced that this service is a necessity, than a potential buyer might consider it to be. The seller would be paying for the evaluation; an extra cost cutting into his margin. Most calculators sold are not (yet) in the hands of the knowledgeable collectors-- so the seller likely would not consider the thought of sending out his merchandise to an entity who would charge him just to tell him he can say "two thumbs up!" on a later ad. He'll just say it, and of course add, "Auction is final".

I'm not saying that an independent valuation organization would not be useful. In collecting, I'd like to have some of my own machines "certified" as a particular grade, so that I have a better handle on what they would be worth to other collectors. I think it would help me make a better case to the insurance company for whatever I lost in a fire, flood, theft or other disaster. And should I ever sell a machine, I think a better price might be had for it with less haggling if I could point to the review of a pro. So, there is a DEFINITE place for this service.

(I seem to remember a remark or two from contributors here that indicated they have done "consulting" in this area or acted as an impartial go-between in some transactions, and as part of that they were asked to evaluate condition. This is great: can someone refresh my memory about who was doing this? Todd G.'s name came to mind for some reason, but my mind has been known to come up with random data that I can not research to verify-- or perhaps at some point in the past he was looking for someone else to do this).

But certainly, here is the point: IF a seller or user, without having to send away his calculator, could come to an evaluation which we could generally AGREE fairly assessed the condition of the equipment, I think we would be MUCH BETTER OFF than we are right now.

It would be self-description of course, and no real substitute for the evaluation of a professional, but it might at least get sellers to consider carefully enumerating those visual or functional quirks that they so easily overlook otherwise.

I know that, if such an evaluation existed, I would personally subject my own calculators to the test, just to see where they "fell" in relation to the optimal. This might give me incentive to look for a charger for my 33c whose click-in end wasn't bound together with scotch tape... ;-D

Further, just how do the professional evaluation services themselves reach an agreement that an object is "Mint" or "Very Good"? They either have internal subjective measures of qualities-- or they have summarized for themselves the flaws to look for that separate ordinary from special-- which they can successfully use to place an objective measure on the piece.

What, though, could *--WE--* do to minimize the wide variability of SELF-DESCRIPTION of a calculator's condition?

I propose that, for EACH MODEL CALCULATOR, we (us, the Forum, the MoHPC crowd) agree upon STANDARDS of evaluation of Functionality and Cosmetics and Completeness. I repeat, FOR EACH MODEL.

In order for that to work, it would have to be in a format, such as a checklist, worksheet or WEB-PAGE (my favorite), that would allow the owner or possessor of a particular calculator to UNEQUIVOCALLY answer specific questions, leading to a score or set of scores. perhaps even with certain qualifiers (I have a class C drivers license, with restriction A. It means I have to wear glasses to read my speeding tickets).

The entire completed form would be easy to email someone inquiring about specifics on the calc, and the seller might gain credibility and interest for his wares by complying and advertizing that his machine "Scores 1175/1200 on the MoHPC scale for Functionality"...

Now, I'm not suggesting that this would solve the problems of deceptive trade. Nor am I suggesting that anyone would warranty anything differently. But if I have a checklist from the seller that states "keys work freely (do not stick in operation)" and the merchandise comes and it feels like Pepsi syrup is one of its features, I am going to have a reasonable SPECIFIC grounds for complaint to the seller, or to this board ABOUT the seller.

"Aw, c'mon, Glynn" I hear you say; "everybody these days has a digital camera and Pictures Don't Lie. There is no need for anyone to have to sit down and answer 100 stupid questions about a calculator; What You See Is What You Get, and Caveat Emptor".

Well, True. But as you may have experienced yourself, pictures sometimes come from other (ahem, borrowed) sources, they are actually quite hard to take well with ANY camera (paying attention to lighting, angle etc) and Especially hard to take well with most Digital Cameras, as small objects like calculators can rarely be focused upon at less than 1 meter distance, and so your "zoom" into its beautiful face loses much clarity and resolve. There is, in short, a lot you CAN'T tell from a photo, particularly once it has been reduced to the size of a stamp and down-ported to 96dpi so that an auction's page loads fast on eBay.

I've spent a lot of time poring over such pictures, and come to the conviction that: A> most people and their cameras can't take pictures worth a tinker's damn; B> those that CAN, do whatever they can to portray fewer flaws than actually are apparent on a cursory glance at the machine in-person. Pictures don't Lie, but they do not represent sufficient information to do anything but REJECT the more obvious "dogs".

And, for "Caveat Emptor", it will ALWAYS be true that, before you part with your money, you should be aware of what might be, as opposed to your expectations of what SHOULD be. I think a set of standards actually enhance your ability to make sound judgements about the merchandise, and even about the seller.

A seller who offers prime merchandise should welcome the chance to meet established criteria with his machine and thus realize top-dollar for it. A buyer should be able to sleep nights between the time he places a bid and when the box shows up at his door, knowing that all the relevant questions have been answered and he can expect something of a "known quantity".

Even if a calculator is not in really fine cosmetic fettle, (hey, how was *I* to know that Ajax/Comet/BonAmi wasn't a good keyboard cleaner? LOL) there may still be reason to have a standard checklist. For instance, have any of us, wanting to know about someone's Voyager, tried to walk them through the several on-board diagnostics? This would be a part of the functionality checking procedure for that class of machine. I would think that a web-page for evaluation of Spices would show a picture of a clean battery compartment and a "furry" one for comparison and point perhaps to another page for suggestions on carefully cleaning one up from that condition so as to make points on that score.

Well, so the basics of what I suggest are these:

1. We think about establishing a set of standards for A> Functionality; B> Cosmetics; C> Completeness & Originality.

2. We write up the standards for EACH pre-1990 HP machine model in existence and their variants. If wished, extensions for the newer ones or rarities in the calculator field could be written up as well-- or for other RPNs (Novus, Elektronica), for peripherals (card-readers, HPIL printers, etc) or for anything calculator-related; but I think MoHPC members should have the "say" in defining the terms of evaluating the HP museum machines FIRST and FOREMOST; it's our bailiwick.

3. The standards should be written such that a non-expert can do the evaluation completely and accurately. No voltmeter readings. You should not have to ask someone to have mag-cards at their disposal-- so only ask those kinds of questions you might ask a potential seller if you had him on the phone with you. If needed, optional scores might be provided for ("oh-- you have some mag-cards? Good-- try this:")

4. I believe the BEST format for the evaluations would be a commonly-accessible set of web-pages, with check-boxes to answer in. A tally/summary sheet at the end (hit SUBMIT) would be printable or save-able afterward. It would list those questions by how they were answered (OK, Not OK, Not Answered) so that anyone could see for themselves the areas which dealt the final score. This summary would ask the participant, at the end, to agree with the statement that he/she had answered each question to the best of his/her ability.

5. As web-pages, they could contain links to how-to's or sets of pictures illustrating, for instance, what a "glass perfect" plastic LED cover looks like while reflecting light, compared to one with light-to-average hairline scrubmarks. In that way, the standards would have points of comparison that most all of us would agree make the difference between "mint" and "near-mint".

6. The community of the MoHPC should do this for the following reasons: A> we are the ones most concerned with evaluation; B> our coming up with standards would enhance awareness of the MoHPC community and its collectors as a mark of "collector sophistication"; C> we need less subjectivity in our sport now. (Up till this point, it was rare for a calculator to sell used for more than the price HP sold it for new. Now, though, it happens all the time). D> We are the only ones who could reasonably be expected to do this.

7. The standards act also as a guideline to potential collectors. If I want to look into buying a 35, I would read the museum page FIRST, but it would also help to have extra guidance in knowing the kind of questions to ask, about wear on the bezel, for instance. Or about how snappy or loose is that switch? And knowing what minor changes to functionality or cosmetics there were can tell me much about the specifics of any machine I may look at. This is one reason for having model/machine-specific standards.

8. Finally, as I said earlier, Users and Collectors have different criteria. Although I could get along with evaluating my machines according to Collector guidelines, they probably would score great functionally but less so cosmetically. But a Collector's Scale and a User Scale could be simultaneously calculated. My 33c and 15c would be excellent user machines, as exhibited by the summary-- and not collector-level machines, which is exactly what I'd have to say on my ad if I were to sell them. So, I interject the possibility that Scales for meeting different objectives are worth considering too.

I want to solicit opinion of course, but I also wish to get you to think further on your own about how such standards would benefit or harm, and what a checklist for your prize machine might look like. In cosmetics, I suggest mentally cutting your calc into "zones" or areas of focus: display, keyboard, back, sides, etc. and evaluating each separately. We would need to discuss how to relate such topics as uneven segment-brightness on a display-- and I think the discussions themselves would do US much good, as teaching and showing others what we already "know" sometimes refreshes our own state of knowledge.

-- glynn.

Re: Thinking of "Minty" new standards. (yeah, it is long)
Message #2 Posted by Gordon Dyer on 20 Apr 2003, 6:25 a.m.,
in response to message #1 by glynn

Hi Glynn, your idea for a set of criteria to assess the condition of calculators is very good and would be of huge benefit to all collectors. You have made a lot of very relevent and useful comments which have grabbed my attention! And it would be good to see the Forum used to produce something more solid than just chat and help, though it works very well for those. (e.g. Jeremy's polls have been very interesting).

I have been involved in database projects at work (specification and implementation, not coding) and know from bitter experience that it is too easy to be very ambitious to begin with and then find it fails becuse of the complexity and amount of data which is required to be updated, or because the real objectives and use were not specific and clear.
I suggest that to start off, a generic set of criteria are put together which can be used for any calculator. If this is successful then so long as the format is easily expandable then more specialised or specific model entries could be added.

There are a few questions I have which need answers before we could decide if this would be valuable.

1) Is Dave willing to host a set of input pages on his website? or do we have another volunteer to host the database?
2) What is the purpose of the information? Is it to aid assessment of calculators being sold or is it to provide a standardised record for those collectors who are honest about and proud of their collections?
3) Will this have any effect on the sellers in eBay who do not already expose the "truth" about the items they are selling?
4) Are members willing to input their personal details, or which details can be held which to not compromise security?

I think to get something going we should treat this as an MoHPC database for members only to share info about their collections, this will develop the criteria and then it could be used to attempt to standardise the descritions for selling. However we will find the the format and requirements for a collectors database are VERY different to the format and requirements for a product description for sale.

I would be very interested in a database of collectors calcs for interest, we could even publish stats showing the distribution of numbers and condition of the calcs which are still alive. maybe it is an expansion of the interesting polls carried out by Jeremy recently?

These are just a few thoughts triggered by a quick scan of your Post, now I will get back to reading it more carefully!


Re: Thinking of "Minty" new standards. (yeah, it is long)
Message #3 Posted by Wayne Brown on 20 Apr 2003, 12:33 p.m.,
in response to message #1 by glynn

Slide rule collectors use a system of condition codes running from C0 (Mint) through C8 (Damaged and well worn). It's a lot less elaborate than what you propose, but it works pretty well and you might want to take a look:

Re: Thinking of "Minty" new standards. (yeah, it is long)
Message #4 Posted by Michael F. Coyle on 20 Apr 2003, 6:22 p.m.,
in response to message #1 by glynn

Hi Glynn,

Your proposal is very interesting. What concerns me a little, though, is whether it will improve the eBay situation. It seems to me that the people who are honest now will continue to be honest after the appraisal comes into use. The liars will just overstate the condition of the machine and still make "all sales final". (I.e. "You don't agree with me? Tough.") The only people whose behavior this is likely to change are those who are basically honest but don't know how to appraise calculators.

I guess we could shun the liars if enough complaints come in but it seems as if we could do more. But let's face it, if a one-time seller is cleaning out his attic, wants to get rid of a calculator, and makes an overly "optimistic" appraisal of its condition, there is not a damn thing we can do about it.

The only honest appraisal is an independant appraisal. That's why someone from the bank shows up at your house when you refinance your mortgauge. But I think you're right, I think that at current market prices, the market won't bear an appraisal cost. Maybe when prices reach the $3000 level...

(I looked at some sites for camera collectors. They have the same problems with eBay as us. See for their take on eBay. They have a guide to eBay descriptions like the one that someone put on the forum recently; I like "Ding -- bashed repeatedly" and "Fungus -- mushrooms growing between elements".)

When we develop a checklist maybe we can test it on some auction items and build a data base. (Sort of a precursor to a Price Guide.)

- Michael

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