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...the old department store...
Posted by harryb on 12 Nov 2003, 10:46 a.m.
In the days of the Commodore Pet and other symbols of that era, I recall walking through the calculator and computer section of Melbourne's (Australia) largest store where they had an array of calculators on display. I was about 11 at the time and already had a sizeable collection of calculators at home including Casio, Hanimex, Sharp, etc. My mother (god bless her, we were not particularly well off) did the best she could to fund my hobby which began at age 9 when I first layed eyes on my uncle's calculator with its glowing blue digits. My first purchase of a programmable was from this store and it was the TI57. Programming was a whole new world, and with the wonderful manual that came with it as well as another manual based on this calculator I purchased a Tandy Electronics store I was able to explore the worlds of relativity (Einstein's twin paradox), balancing stoichiometric equations, Avogardo's number, using the trapezoidal rule to calculate the area under a curve (before I even knew about integral calculus), etc. It was amazing. Soon after this store brought new models in. These included the best from TI including the TI58C and the TI59 as well as the HP67 and HP97. I remember somehow convincing my mother to buy the TI58C. Wow - now this machine had constant memory and preprogrammed module libraries. You could buy libraries for every area conceivable! I recall my best friend, Joseph, purchased a HP33E (not the C believe it or not!) to maintain his _individuality_ . One thing I can't forget, was that despite the many obviously superior aspects of my super TI58C over his HP33E (many more functions, more programming steps, constant memory and library modules) there was something about his calculator that I secretly loved. I would never admit it though - but I would constantly visit the department store and ask to have a play (they allowed me by now since I had already purchased 2 very expensive models from them). It was the only way for me to satisfy my "fetish" without letting on to my best friend how envious I was of his calculator. After much badgering by me he upgraded to a HP34C (which had a built in SOLVE function - a numeric integration algorithm). Internally I was fuming but we both knew I still had the superior calculator. What it was about these HP's? Was it the shape of the keys? The solid feel of the instrument? The RPN (which I still had not bothered to understand)? The shape of characters on the display? The tactile feedback? The incredible manuals that told a story with each operational paradigm? In the meanwhile being the geek that I was, I used to read the monthly Scientific American and Omni, and lo and behold I saw this advertisement one day. The HP41C. It was alphanumeric - you could actually enter characters on screen - the programming possibilites seemed endless (remember when the best you could do prior to this was enter 0.7734 and turn the calculator upside down (hELL0)). I had to save for 8 months. Every week I dilligently went to the department stote and paid off $5 or $10 or whatever I could afford, until the magic day that I picked it up. I did not sleep for over 36 hours when I went home. I read the manual from cover to cover many times, performing every example. I proudly attached it to my belt and carried it with me wherever I went. On the day it got stolen at school, the shy, insecure ectomorphic 14 year old (me) stopped the entire school and made sure no-one went home until everyones lockers and schoolbags were searched. I don't know how I pulled that off but I must have been pretty convincing to the headmistress. It was found about half an hour later in an abandoned locker. I eventually purhased the card reader and the optical wand, as well as a memory module. The printer and storage unit always seemed to elude my pocket. Later on I upgraded to the 41CX. My friend Joseph, always the individualist had to get himself a HP67. My obcession with these computational devices peaked when 20 years later I purchased a second hand Silicon Graphics Onyx IR for about $120,000. I still love this technology, and I'm sure it was thanks to these calculators that I broke high school applied math and university quantum physics exam record - by having my mind opened to the wonderful world of math via these instruments. I have tried to instill the same fascination to my young daughter, but to no avail, despite a natural ability in math. I will be forever grateful to those calculators, especially the 41.
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