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HP-34C in high school calculus, back in 1980

Posted by Norm Hill on 27 Mar 2003, 12:06 a.m.

I always will have the finest memory in high school mathematics class (I was in the 'advanced' calculus program). The time was 1980. At the time, the HP Calculators were around, but very expensive. Schools would encourage you to purchase a TI-30 for trig and calculus. People knew about the HP but refrained ("that's for Einsten, and there's no eeekwulz button). I was interested in the superior unit and had earned the money and bought one. I had been told how RPN would make the calculator work better than a TI-30 and I had mastered the 34C and really liked it. It was a fine fine complement to going thru teenager trig and calculus classes. (later I used it thru college).

The high school math teacher was skeptical. That was "Mr. Hilton" out near Lynnwood, WA. He preferred the 'one with the eekwulz button'. He was probably intimidated that I had bought this extremely expensive HP calculator, because who could afford one on teacher's pay. (HP calc cost a LOT of income at the time). And some of the students had noticed it, and were wondering if the calculator really was better than a regular one like a TI-30.

The TI-30 the schools & teachers recommended is pretty much useless for doing anything more complex than 2+2=4 . You can't evaluate complicated formulas readily. If you use the parentheses, you get lost, and if you try to store intermediate results in a register, you'll also get lost. Meanwhile RPN supports complicated numerical evaluation.

AND SO, we were going thru the calculus class one day and dealing with a problem. We had actual numbers to plug into a big formula, the teacher wanted to get a numerical answer, even though it was a theoretical calculus class.

EXACTLY the situation for which RPN existed. So, we've set the stage for something humorous.


The teacher pulled out his "TI-30" with the eekwulz button.

He started pushing buttons, trying to use the memory (this plus this, eekwulz, I'll store this..... EQUALS, OOPS, got to start over, EQUALS, mumble mumble, store this, DARN, left parentheses, rats) yeah, he was carrying on like that because the formula was kind of complicated.

Like a relaxed sharpshooter, I reached down to the book-pile on the floor at my high school desk........ I pulled up the HP-34C (in its fancy fur-padded pouch).

I removed it from the pouch. I began typing the formula, ONE TIME ONLY, without hurrying. Even though I'd started well after the teacher with the TI-30,I had the answer in seconds.

The teacher was still mumbling and saying 'eekwulz, recall that, eekwulz, store this, where is the parentheses, eekwulz, OOPS', and then, I stated the answer to him.

He simply put away his TI-30 calculator and wrote the answer on the board.

He said 'Norm has one of those expensive HP calculators. It uses a system called RPN which is supposed to make it more practical to use on difficult formulas like this. I don't know if its true...... well...... maybe it is".

"We'll trust that this answer is correct". He had never gotten any sort of answer with the TI-30.


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