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33E Memories

Posted by Winston Smith on 24 July 2003, 9:10 a.m.

I have just discovered this wonderful site for the true believers of HP RPN calculators. I purchased my 33E on 5 April 1979 in Sydney University for approximately $140AUS ($160US in those days). This was much more than a standard trainee engineer's weekly wage. I used it extensively to complete my chemical engineering degree. Its most valuable feature was its 49 'lines' of program. I use to have up to four different iteration type calculations programmed to check against a PDP 11/60 Fortran program I had written to design distillation columns. I would run each progam in turn as required to optimise column diameter, plate heights, and most importantly mass balances in the liquid and vapour phases. I specialised in ternary azeoptropic together with cryogenic distillation so my calculator got a real work out. By late 1982 the keys were beginning to stick badly. I had a scouts jamboree to attend in Melbourne in early 1983 and took the calculator on the long car trip in a hope that as the HP main office was in Melbourne they could do something about it. To my surprise they changed the entire key pad within minutes at no cost nearly 4 years after my purchase!

I have changed the battery twice with the current battery being approximately 17 years old. It still holds up for about an hour or longer if I change the decimal point displays to 0 and type in a '1' to minimise LEDs while I am not using it and have a program. I am a RPN tragic and just get frustrated with modern day '=' sign using calculators.

Ability to use RPN has helped greatly over the years with programming PLCs and DCS systems. The now once great but defunct (thanks for nothing ABB) Bailey Controls Company product, Network/Infi 90 use to have a particularly useful function block called the 'Rung' block. Although it was used for digital manipulation intimate knowledge of how to effectively utilise stacks made it a breeze to write powerful compact programs with these incredibly versatile function blocks.

Fortunately I have kept everything since my purchase in '79. I have the original box, receipts, manuals, help cards etc. The box holds a pride of place in my library. Best of all my 33E works just as good as the day I bought it. There is no way I would willingly part with it. When you have a possession which just keeps working and is a link to university days it has, as one writer in this museum noted, become a part of me.

I have to admit I did start with a Canon Palmtronic F-7 at high school in 1976/77. I still have that calculator in working order, it has the advantage of using 4 standard AA batteries. My wife uses it, but it uses batteries like there is no tomorrow.

Please excuse my spelling and grammar. After all I am a practicing injuneer!


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