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HP-97 My First Computer

Posted by MikeO on 21 June 2008, 6:50 p.m.

My Dad brought one of these home back in 1976. At the time, I was 13 years old. He used it to work out satellite fixes and general surveying stuff related to the communications field.

I was struck by this little computer, and asked my Dad if I could borrow it for awhile. Typical of him, he said, "fine, just put it back where you got it" and didn't appear to worry at all about his kid breaking the thing!

Well, soon forgotten in favor of other toys by my busy Dad, it eventually ended up in my room, permanently. I remember learning how to program it by reading the excellent manual HP had written for it. It was at this time I started to draw the connection between numbers and codes - representing real world concepts. This calculator grounded me in the basic principles of programming, which served me well, as I eventually grew into a software developer in my adult life.

On so many levels, this piece of technology was a masterpiece of engineering. I'm still awestruck by it today. It had magnetic storage, a printer, and a programming langugage that included concepts such as indirect addressing. The physical design was no less impressive - from the large digit LED display, to the nearly full day of battery life you could get out of it, to the solid buttons! They really don't make things like this anymore.

Well, a couple of months ago, my Dad and I were talking about this calculator and he announced he still had it! In fact, he brought it down during a visit and even had found the programs I had written on it when I was just a kid! Talk about getting into a time machine!

The experience was so great, that I felt I had to do something to mark it. So I promised my Dad, in return for the calculator, I would use it as the model to write an HP97 simulator program - so he could have one of his own anytime, and so we could share this experience with others who may not have one anymore.

The result can be found at

-Mike O'Shea

Edited: 21 June 2008, 6:54 p.m.


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