|Re: Hoping for a new ^H^H^Hold high-end RPN calculator|
Message #16 Posted by Will Hartung on 22 Aug 2007, 12:16 a.m.,
in response to message #15 by James M. Prange (Michigan)
Actually, I was sort of toying around with this idea.
Someone, somewhere, here, earlier mumbled something about having a "generic calculator" platform to develop, well, calculators. The "Generic" or "Blank" Calculator.
And, frankly, modulo the form factor, the 48-50g series is, essentially, exatly that.
Anyone so motivated can make those machines do most anything.
There is a line crossed by the RPL machines when they crept away from being "keystroke" programmable. I mean, I guess you could program these things using all of he soft keys and what not, but it doesn't take long for one to drop that and simply key the program in on the alpha keyboard.
What make keystroke programmables nice is their coarsness and simplicity. Keystroke programs start as little more than "watch me" macros, which makes it much easier for someone trying to replicate a complicated equation. Obviously folks can take it far beyond that, but more casual users can more easily program a keystroke progammable simply because doing so is little more than what they would normally do on the calculator.
So, for some, that's what makes somethng like the 35s more compelling than a behemoth like the 50g. That keystroke ease of use.
But it would be interesting for someone to try and convert a 50 into a keystroke machine, rather than a RPL machine. At the core, all of the capability is there. The 50 series will pretty much do anything a calculator can do, and has all of the core routines. So, the game isn't so much function and algorithm design, rather it's a design of user interface.
Realistically, that's all a calculator is today. A compromise between functionality and interface. How to cram usable and friendly power and functionality into a bunch of buttons and 1 or 2 lines of text.
There other non-functional requirements, mostly battery life and performance, but the balance and elegance of a calculator is pretty much all interface.
An interesting example of this comes from an industrial applicaton I wrote for the 48 series several years ago. This fellow was working on a design for resource tracking, and he started out with a bar code scanner. It was interesting to see how his design expanded until the user was expected to run around with a bunch of double sided flip cards packed to the gills with bar codes to scan. Eventually, he was even considering giving them a single card with 10 barcodes (one for each digit) on it and a list of code to be scanned in, digit by digit, with the scanner.
I asked him "So, you expect the users to basically key in numbers using a bar code scanner?"
Yea, it does sound silly. But with the bar code scanner as the hammer of the day, that was how the design was progressing. At that point the bar code scanner was obviously the wrong tool for the job.
But the core problem we found wasn't the data, or the process, but it was all form factor and interface.
Turns out that a 48 with a serial port, those bright orange nylon pouches, and some custom software, and a bit of "White out" and a ball point pen for some custom keys was the hot, outside the box solution to the problem.
And interface is what defines a calculator, and seperates the good from the bad.
Back to the 50, as I said all of the math is there. But also, all of the interface is there as well. You can reprogram (even from just User RPL) pretty much every key on the keyboard. Most likely the ON and R/L Shift keys may not be available from User RPL, but every other one is. And with a bit of Sys RPL, those too may be up for grabs. You can address every pixel on the display, and make the thing sing Yankee Doodle Dandy. I/O, clocks, gobs of RAM.
So, to me, it seems that the 50, with a little bit of sofware to handle some infrastructure, would be a calculator hackers dream experimenters tool.
The truly motivated could obivously reflash the entire machine from the core with compiled code. But so much is available to even the "lowly" User RPL user.
No doubt, much of this work would be done with an emulator, but the samples can then be downloaded to the machine to try out in real life. Heck, strip the case and make some custom dry transfer labels for your custom key sets. A little paint and a steady hand can redo the keys themselves (though they may not last).
Basically, for folks motivated to reinvent the calculator, there's a machine out there that's reinventable: The HP 50. (I dunno if the TI's are as flexible)