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My Calulatin' life

Posted by Tom Lianza on 2 Apr 2000, 10:08 p.m.

As I sit here staring at my calculator collection I can recall some of the most intense and happy days of my life. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a statistics class and dreaming of some way of getting the homework done quicker so that I could get onto the more important things in life: beer and women. I anguished over the calculations because I was so careless. There was lots of sums, sums of squares, square roots, ratios, F-tests, T-tests, ANOVA and each one of them was a land mine waiting to snuff that "A" to a "C". This was 1972-73. There still was a war in Vietnam and there was a probability that I might end up drafted, so beer and women did mean a lot to me.

I had made friends with a student from Hong Kong and he showed me a Sharp PalmTop that might have been the CS1120 or EL102. The square root key was there and the calculator had the old += and -= keys for summing. I was staring at heaven. I got together the coin to buy that and then I noticed a new calculator from a manufacturer I only recognized as a test instrument maker: HP. One look at the HP35 and I knew that there was life beyond heaven. It did logs! I used logs in every lab ( I was a photographic science major at RIT and most photo measurements are analyzed in log space). I phoned the HP field office and placed an order. Then I phoned my mother and told here to send money. They didn't have store distribution or anything like that. There was a couple of week wait (which was anguish) . I got a card that my calculator was in and I hitched a ride to the HP field office to pick it up. There was a line of people waiting to get their calculator. By this time, it must have been obvious that HP had a winner on their hands. We all sat in line and got handed our little cases. It was exciting.

I had an original 35 red dot with the math error. That calculator lived on my hip or on my desk in the dorm. One day I came back from the bathroom and found that someone had liberated the machine from my desk in my dorm. I was heart broken. By now the 45 had been introduced so I took the insurance money an bought one of those. Without question, the 45 represents one of the best examples of what a calculator should be. It had great balance in terms of features and it just said "QUALITY" every time you pushed a button. I was working on campus and someone ripped that one off out of my briefcase, I didn't have the guts to put a security cradle in the case.

I was getting tired of being a low cost supplier of HP calculators to thieves and decided to take drastic action: I bought a CompuCorp 326G calculator. It was big, it was very high quality and it cost a bit more than an HP65 (which had been introduced by this time) One advantage that the CompuCorp machine had was a tape drive that could record data. I used an endless tape in it and I was able to write a fourier transform program that let me do the calculations that I needed to do for my masters thesis. I never had to go the computer center again. What a blessing.....

After college, I worked with a number of HP desktops. The 9815 was one of my favorites, and I am still looking for one of those....I've got a 9825a and HP-85 in great shape (along with a group of assorted Monroes).

I had a 28s which baffled me and I never did warm up to it. I bought a 41CV the day it was introduced and used that machine for years. I wore out an HP-16 and I know that there are thousand of programmers that would welcome the re-introduction of that machine(HINT, HINT, HP). I bought a 48SX shortly after it was introduced. That was a case of too much calculator and too little time. The learning curve was too steep to do much with it, although I am now starting to take an active interest in the 48 architecture.

During the PC revolution, I moved away from calculators. I realized that general programming skills went a long way to easing the translation between technological advances. I finally could just write a "C" program and run it on a Unix, Windows,or Mac machine. As I got more into that I realized that computers were also a losing proposition when it came to technological transfer. Now I understand more about computers and calculators and I have strong feelings about where in my technical life each belongs. I carry an HP 32SII in my bag today. It's a fine machine and it's easy to program. As I look at PDA's (yeh, I've got a pile of those) I'm still trying to figure where they belong. My 41CV might have made a useful platform for a PDA as well as a great calculator. I just know the current PDA's don't make it from the standpoint of calculation. The calculator is becoming a specialized tool. I was in Wood Workers Warehouse and I saw a carpenters calculator that did rise/run calculations for steps and roofing calculations. There wasn't one program that I couldn't replicate on any of the programmables, but the key layout and labeling made it easy for a woodworker to use the machine. I almost bought one but I realized that now that I collect calculators, I would have to buy 2.

After I started collecting calculators, I was finally able to put all the HP classics next to one another and ,at last, I appreciated the technologies and steady progression of features. It was clear to see that the programming features where starting to have a major impact on the keyboard layout. Each of the classics had the 5 X 3 array of function keys, separated by a the row of 4 keys which always included enter and finally that 4X4 row of numeric keys. The impact of micro-code suddenly hit home. Each machine had a unique set of functions, but the physical layout was almost constant. Comparisons of the 41CV and the 65 show the physical similarities but also emphasize the philosophical difference between machines. As I look at the 48SX and my bad feelings about the 28s, I realize the quantum jump that HP made in these machines. I just didn't happen to make the jump with them.

I don't know what memories I'll be writing about in the next 25 years, but I know that I'll never lose my love for those calculating machines that gave me more time for life's pleasures....


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