|Re: The Zen of HP Calculators, or Why Do We Do This?|
Message #18 Posted by Petr Horský on 27 Jan 2007, 12:16 p.m.,
in response to message #1 by Les Wright
... Is it an aesthetic thing? Nostalgia? A mistrust of newer and faster technologies... ?
I would like to suggest two points that don't seem to be mentioned above, but first let me describe the background (and forgive me my faint English, lacking clarity, pertinence, and, most of all, brevity).
I can still freshly recall the first day in my first job, now exactly 29 years (minus a week) ago. Two minutes after I first sat to my desk, my supervisor came up, withdrew that slab above the uppermost drawer right to me, and onto it, he put down his HP-25. (I even clearly remember him explaining the difference between the FIX and ENG display modes.) I had already known this model, as my math teacher had shown me his HP-25 (bought during a vacation in Swiss) for a while few years before that, and I was fully (albeit for the most part rather intuitively) aware of its peerlessness: In comparison with other contemporary brands, it was both tiny and robust in several aspects, starting with its keycaps (with threefold! legends), through the small yet sharp red (and left-adjusted) display, up to its inimitably shaped case. I soon noticed further attributes of its individuality and elaborate compactness, such as asymmetrically located battery pack, key merging into a single step, or memory arithmetics (e.g. STO * 7). Moreover, something similar did apply to the documentation:
from the quality of print to the quality of wording.
And, in particular, all that was obvious immediately, without comprehending any details or any principles. At grammar school, I had also met some TI and Commodore models, had been distinguishing their individual features (which they had positively had), but had at the first look seen brightly that the uniqueness of HP went far beyond them. Now the HP-25 was virtually mine (as my boss seldom had any use for it). Sadly, I didn't have any real and reasonable employment for it either. I learned how to program it, wrote a naive program to convert the thermocouple voltage to temperature, tried several programs from the manual... and that was nearly all (except for a few elementary calculations occasionally made). And within a year, I shifted to an HP 9845A, which is another story, however similar.
1. Personally, I feel I've been still owing something important to these little machines -- something I can return only now. Back then, I didn't have, for instance, a slightest idea of the CORDIC algorithm (and thought the trig functions were computed summing up a series) or of the constraints of digital IC design,
didn't know anything nontrivial about numerical math, and knew nothing of programming. Now it seems to be the right time to apprehend a bit better how these calculators, which fascinated me so much, have been made, and why.
2. It's nice to see there are still some values that survive for decades -- or, perhaps more precisely, it's nice (if not even nicer) to see that our ability to understand and appreciate such values is still persisting.
Well, too many words for too small an idea. But, after all, I would think the mere fact one remembers such stuff for so many years may indicate something by itself.