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Some 41 memories
Posted by Juan Jijon on 26 Aug 2000, 7:39 p.m.
The calculators revolution passed by as I grew up and went trhough school. I remember playing with an HP 67 and finding out about the 41 series, monsters by those times standards. When I went to the university I managed myself to buy an HP 41CX, amidst lots of advices against it and favoring Japanese "function library" pocket computers.
To make a long story short, I was never dissapointed by my trusty 41CX. I could do things ten times faster with much less hassle. The CX's stopwatch and extended functions made event logging and time management a lot easier, specially in the Chemistry lab (by the way, newer HPs lack a functioning stopwatch). Synthetic programming also allowed me to automate a lot of repetitive calculations, especially for my Math and Thermodynamics classes. I wrote a number of programs that allowed me to pass problems by while my classmates looked for the "library reference" of a related function, often to calculate an intermediate answer, which in turn needed either a mode shift or another reference call to continue the calculation.
Later I bought the Math/Stat Pac and a card reader, which made my life even easier. Changing calculator status and assignments to swap tasks was so simple and elegant; a program set up a "normal operation status" with the constants and functions I used most. The software was powerful, yet friendly, and the XROM function allowed function calling from other programs. I even modified some Solution Book programs to take advantage of both Pac subroutines and the CX extended functions. Pacs and Solution Books were written for the 41C/CV simpler function set.
One day my CX flyed away of my hands, hitting the ground and suffering a break on the display. Not surprisingly, it still worked but there was always something about that crack on the display (which I later sealed). I was offered a 48SX, but said no (it didn't have a stopwatch, did not solve polynomials and did not handle matrices and arrays very well, among other things) and clinged to my 41CX.
Shortly before I graduated, HP introduced the 48GX. I liked it and bought one. I remember putting the 41 and 48 close together, while I said to myself "HP 41CX, retired from active duty." Since the 48GX was a much improved product than the 48SX, I ended up liking it. I transferred data to and from my PC, wrote applications and used third-party cards. But the feeling was never the same. HP accesories always had a familiarity feeling of their own, aside from fine craftmanship, which was (and is) hard to find in other manufacturers. HP surely changed the way it made handhelds and stopped manufacturing applications and peripherals because of all that Japanese machines, and did it well, but in the process it lost that aura that made the 41 series so special
I lost the 48GX some time ago. Bought a new one, which I still use, for number crunching and as a PDA (a well-programmed 48GX can beat any Palm Pilot by a huge margin). However, every now and then it feels so good to do serious number crunching with the 41CX, which lies close to the 48 in my desk and spends part of its "retirement time" calculating moving averages for my mother: the program took thirty minutes to write, and all you need to do is turn the calculator on and follow a few simple instructions (with little knowledge about RPN, she was able to beat a colleague using a Casio and another using Excel!)..
Once I read about a fighter pilot that flew supersonic jets in the 1960s but remained fond of the fine handling characteristics of the F-86 Sabre he flew as a brand-new pilot from the academy. Same thing with the 41: it might have been surpassed by newer machines, but still handles superbly.
I recently found out about the role of the 41 series on the space shuttle. One thing I am sure of is that a 41CX with a Math/Stat Pac and a card reader can easily take you to the Moon and back, and its 12-digit accuracy can make you feel far more confortable than the double precision floating point results of many desktops and laptops. Which is also valid for the 48GX, although to a lesser extent.
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