|Re: HP philosophy|
Message #4 Posted by Howard Owen on 30 Jan 2006, 10:55 p.m.,
in response to message #1 by Joe Edwards
The 41C documentation taught me how to program. I had seen an Apple ][ and a Commodore Pet, but I didn't know the first thing about BASIC. The excellent "Owner's Handbook and Programming Guide" was all I needed to break through from nearly complete ignorance into a fairly good grasp of how computers were programmed. (I actually didn't know what a good grounding it was until later, when assembly programming and FORTH on the Apple came easily to me.)
Documentation, or the lack of it, on the low-end machines notwithstanding, I don't fault HP for trying to produce good documentation for the RPL machines. The 28S manuals are pretty good. But the complexity of the machine had increased to the point where they couldn't give the same kind of general overview. The 48G saw the publication of the AUR, a fine piece of work. It even tries to reproduce that signature HP method of teaching programming through the use of examples. But the language is much, much harder, so the tutotial has to spend most of its time discussing the details rather than how they fit together.
That philosophy that Les says is lacking in the manuals is actually present in "HP-28 Insights" by William Wickes. It gives a designer's eye view of the machine. It's not particularly helpful in learning how to operate the machine, but it does give you an excellent idea of where the principle architect of RPL was coming from. But the HP-48 version of this work was two volumes, so you really ended up needing to read four volumes of not-so-easy prose to appreciate the attempt HP made to deliver documentation of a quality similar to the best of what had come before. And in my opinion, the attempt failed, precisely because the job was made so much harder by the explosion in complexity that RPL brought with it.
When I got my 41C, I spent at least six hours every day reading that manual and playing with the calculator. Inside a month, I had a pretty good grasp of what the basic machine was capable of. It's been seven months since I bought an HP-49g+. I haven't concentrated my time on it, or on the 48s I've bought, in the same way as for that first 41, but I've spent plenty of time nonetheless. I am nowhere close to knowing the whole machine the way I knew my first 41. That's not the documentation's fault, however. The new AUR for the 49G+ is built on the old 48 AUR, with lots of additions from the Metakernel manual and other places. There's a terrific little User's Guide by Dr. Gilberto Urroz that gives a methematical introduction to the operation of the machine, and a larger User's manual in PDF form that fleshes the guide out nicely. The documentation is well organized and comprehensive. But the machine is just too darn complicated to grasp in a short time. I keep learning new stuff the longer I play with the 49g+. This is a great delight for me, since I'm doing this as a hobby, i.e. for recreation. But I can certainly see why TI won the educational market with its simpler machines. HP probably got a lock on the mathematics and computer science geek market, but gave up the rest with these powerful, but difficult machines. I'm just glad I'm in the target demographic. 8)
P.S. Don't worry about being born "too late." You get to partake of the best of the past and the present. And you have a longer time to try to influence the future. Good luck!