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Floored and thunderstruck by the HP-35

Posted by D.Slauson on 21 Jan 2002, 5:17 p.m.

In the fall of 1972 I was a university freshmen living in the dorms. I was struggling through my first chemistry course, and recall that our lab TA had spent a few sessions on mastering the slide rule, reminding us to be careful to not lose track of the decimal point! One night, one of our dorm-mates comes up to a group of us and says, "You guys have GOT to see THIS!..." and pulls out this little black box. I didn't know what it was (remember, I was a naive freshman, and had not even seen a simple 4-function handheld calculator); it looked kind of like a Startrek tri-corder or something. Anyway he fires it up, punches in some lengthy number, hits the square-root button, and BAM! There's an immediate and precise answer, out to n decimal places! Trig and logs too! I was absolutely floored. We were all quite excited and wanted to rush out and get them ourselves until we found out they cost about $400. The kid who showed it too us, had borrowed it from his uncle, who was a physics professor, so he wasn't really any better off than the rest of us. I don't think I ever quite got over that moment. About 2.5 years later I finally scrimped up enough to buy an HP-25. In the fall of '72 you could tell the science and engineering students by the slide-rules hanging from their belts. By 74-75 all those students had calculators, and slide rules were extinct.


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