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33 years with HP calculators

Posted by Mark Crispin on 7 Aug 2005, 3:06 p.m.

I first saw the HP-35 in 1972 when I was a high school junior and taking computer classes at the local community college. A fellow student had one. I immediately recognized that it replaced the slide rule. I wanted one, but at the time the $395 price tag was way beyond the budget of a 16-year-old.

In the summer of 1973, I took a physics class at the community college as part of my plan to enter college as a freshman that fall and not bother with senior year of high school. By then I had a calculator -- a dinky four-function Radio Shack calculator at the outrageous price of $100. It was still better than a slide rule, but having to use log and trig tables was a pain.

In the fall of 1973, I entered college, and saw that my dream HP-35 was now $295 due to the introduction of the HP-45. The college bookstore allowed buying on credit, and for the remainder of my freshman year most of my spare income (work-study at minimum wage) went into paying off the loan on my HP-35. But I was happy.

To my mind, the HP-35 had the perfect user interface that has never been equalled.

I never cared for the HP-45, not even when the timer was pointed out. I actually liked having a CLR key and "standard mode" display, and as it turned out I never needed the additional functions on the HP-45.

The HP-65, on the other hand, was a different matter. When it was announced, I absolutely wanted one because it was programmable, even though it had all the user interface aspects of the HP-45 that I disliked. However, at that time, it was totally unaffordable for an 18-year-old college sophomore.

As the years went by, I continued to depend upon my HP-35. Sometime in the 1980s, however, the LED display started to become intermittant. I foolishly made an attempt to fix it, and the "repair" destroyed it. Nothing remains of it except for the hard leather "field case" when I bought in 1973 and still have.

A few years later, around 1989 or 1990, I saw a newsgroup ad for an HP-35 for sale. I immediately bought it. It had the original case, manual, charger, and soft case including the original bands for the charger and soft case. The previous owner was obviously a smoker, as the entire surface had grime on it. That gradually succumbed to repeated applications of alcohol and Q-tip over the years; and under all that grime, the original patina was still there, and the only major area of chrome loss is above the CLR key. The power switch could use a bit of cleaning to make it more robust, but this calculator has never been opened (the label has no peel indication) and I want to keep it that way.

That HP-35 became my primary calculator, and it's staying in that position.

In recent months, I finally fufilled my dream to own an HP-65; and for completeness I got an HP-45 as well. Those were the big three calculators in my early college years. I never paid much attention to the HP models after those three.

I still find the formatted display of the HP-45 and HP-65 to be annoying.

Right now, my major effort is to get the HP-65's card reader working again (a thread which I started in the MOHPC forum). I'm starting to think that it may be time to get a second HP-65 as a parts donor. I was enjoying programming the HP-65 and was in the process of writing a fun program for the MOHPC library when the card reader gave out on me.

I also have two HP-30s calculators; one which lives in my daily travel bag and one which lives in my RV. I really hate its algebraic notion. One of the main tasks of the RV model is to calculate MPG given miles travelled and liters. The HP-30s has metric conversion functions, but I can't figure out how to do the algebraic equivalent of <miles> ENTER <liters> CONVERT-LITERS-TO-GALLONS DIVIDE. The closest that I can come up with is either <miles> DIVIDE <liters> EQUALS CONVERT-GALLONS-TO-LITERS or <liters> CONVERT-LITERS-TO-GALLONS STORE A <miles> DIVIDE RECALL A EQUALS.

I was going to buy an HP-33s instead in order to get RPN, but between that ridiculous chevron keyboard and a user interface that could only be loved by Rube Goldberg, I decided that the HP-30s was alright as a throwaway.

Damn, why can't HP make a $15 modernized HP-35 (which is after all what the HP-30s goes for). I'd happily give up the additional features of the HP-30s in return for RPN.


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