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Calculator Fiction -- The Mutant HP

Posted by Paul Brogger on 24 May 2002, 11:47 a.m.

The following is an excerpt from a college math assignment, ca. 1978. We were supposed to demonstrate our facility with calculation and prediction of celestial motions in the form of a personal letter to our professor, who was assumed to be taking a hypothetical trip and was asking about the timing of a starís zenith arrival times during a ten-day stay at a particular location. I went off on a tangent, somewhat inspired by my HP-29C. I hope you enjoy it.

. . . that inconvenience is coupled with the fact that Iíve only had my slide rule available for figuring lately; my calculator having seemingly mutated to some higher order of electronic integration.

Recently, during some particularly complex calculations, the thing became insensitive to input of any sort, and began an unceasing series of apparently random manipulations, derivations, and rearrangements. Iíve attempted an analysis of the sequence of figures displayed, but can detect neither logical order nor numerical series to explain what has happened or to predict what will.

At first, the lazy, arrhythmic pulsation of the dull red display exerted a surprisingly soothing effect (especially after a few hits of Lebanese Blonde). Long sessions that began with close, energetic observation and slavish transcription inevitably devolved to slouching, hypnotic sťances, altogether void of analytic merit. Lately, however, the beastís quasi-Algebraic ruminations have taken on a rather sinister character. Intense staccato bursts of activity are interspersed with ominous (dare I say, moody?) periods of inactivity, during which I can almost hear an obstinate, insidious concentration directed at the supra-Arabic numerals in the register.

Now it can turn itself off and on at will, and it grows perceptibly warm to the touch whenever I try to disconnect his recharge cord. I fear heíll soon learn to bypass the display, so that I wonít have the vaguest clue as to whatís going on inside . . .

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