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Someone Else's Loss

Posted by OJM on 12 July 2004, 12:21 p.m.

(Originally posted to the HP Forum while discussing valued items left behind in the office when leaving a job.)


Fortunately I have not, either intentionally or unintentionally, left behind something of value like a calculator or books while leaving a job. However, I did benefit greatly from another person’s loss (or oversight) a few years ago.

In the year 2000 I was an engineer designing turbine blades for a large US company. This company had already performed several massacres (i.e. “reductions in force”) on its engineers, and then had decided to move its remaining engineers to another state. I was one of the last guys left in the old office area, and while still working there I got to see the demolition workers beginning to dismantle the old desks, cubicles, and bookshelf walls and tossing things into a pile at the other end of the office.

At the time I had never used, nor did I care for, any of HP’s calculators. To me they were those overpriced calculators that I would sometimes see other engineers using, with that dumb (or so I thought) “backwards Polish whatever” way of entering calculations. Nonetheless, while taking a shortcut through the wreckage on my way to my desk at the back of the building, I spotted a glint of something shiny along with a few keypad buttons in a pile of dismantled bookshelves, broken drywall, and discarded engineering notebooks. I recognized it as one of those thin, horizontal-layout HP calculators I had sometimes seen in use around the office. It had apparently fallen down between bookshelves quite sometime ago, and looked like it had many years (about ¼”!) of dust and lint on it. I wiped off the display and most of the keys, pressed the “ON” key, and “0.0000” came up dimly on the LCD.

Whatever this calculator was, I knew that whoever had owned it before had put it through a hell of a lot of use. All the corners of the once sand-textured plastic case had been worn down to a well-rounded gloss by years of handling. The keys had also been worn to a high gloss by many years of finger keystrokes but were still perfectly readable (thanks to double-shot keys). The aluminum bezel around the LCD was dented and deeply scratched in many places, and the bezel corner next to the logo location was peeling up away from the case. The logo itself was long gone. The four rubber feet were also gone, and apparently had been lost for many years, since the aluminum label on the back of the unit had been rubbing directly on desktops for so long that the writing had been completely worn off, leaving just a shiny & scratched aluminum plate. Even the three little ribs on the little battery cover had been completely worn off.

Anyway, although it was one of those “weird” HP calculators, I figured I might as well try to find out more about it, so I got on the web to search for info. It was then that I first saw this HP Museum web site. After comparing keyboard pictures I learned that I had found an old HP-15C. I replaced the batteries & performed the self-tests described in the web pages, and everything came up OK. So, even though it was worn & ugly, it was still perfectly functional. The serial number indicated that it was one of the earliest USA Voyager units, with a date code from 1982.

Today I realize just how lucky I was, but at the time I still didn’t appreciate what I had found. To me it was just an old oddball calculator. I learned basic RPN from this web site, and used the calculator for routine calculations, but many of its advanced functions were still a mystery to me. Then I got lucky again, because in a used book shop I found a nearly-mint spiral bound copy of the HP 15C User’s Manual, and of the Advanced Functions Manual, for about $5 each (apparently they didn’t know the value of what they had either).

That was when I began to learn how to use its capabilities, and I began to appreciate what a gem this little calculator really was. I now keep it secure in a locked drawer, and I use it sparingly, not because I don’t like it, but because I consider it irreplaceable. I bring it out when I need to do complicated calculations, or run some special little programs for certain equations. The rest of the time I use a cheaper calculator.

Anyway, that’s how someone else’s loss was my gain. Or maybe a curse! Because now I can’t stand to do any calculations on algebraic calculators, and prefer RPN. But RPN is rapidly becoming extinct! Maybe ignorance was truly bliss. Either way, I will try to keep this old HP-15C as long as I can.


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