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HP-41 Memories

Posted by Dan Grelinger on 2 Apr 2000, 9:57 p.m.

Before becoming an HP owner, I had some of the most common calculators of the time, (a TI-1250 for Christmas '75, an NS 600 won in a junior high school lottery, and a TI-30 in high school). I took my TI-30 to engineering college with me, and when it was stolen (I actually left it in Thermodynamics class, and it wasn't there when I went back to get it) I moved up to the TI-58C. But by this time, I had noticed a new type of calculator that seemed to be the Cadillac of engineering calculators, the HP-41C. I ran into a few people that had them, and would ask to borrow theirs, just to explore for a few minutes what this new machine could really do.

My first memories are of turning the calculator on, and seeing the previous calculation result in the display. "Do you need this number?" I would ask. (Seems silly, doesn't it). The "Fix 4" display format, the LCD display with ALPHA messages (DATA ERROR), the large "ENTER" key, the other multi-faceted keys with blue LETTERS on them, and not just one, but FOUR module ports, all in a nice little package smaller and lighter than the TI-58C! Of course, I began dreaming of owning one. But could I really justify $275 (I had to have the CV, not the C), and maybe $195 more for a card reader. This was the same as a semester's tuition, just for a calculator!

The campus bookstore put on a calculator exhibition for students one winter evening, bringing several calculators to a classroom on campus, and allowing the students to test drive them. I went to this event, (yes, I must admit, this was the highlight of that week, since I had no girlfriend), and the bookstore was showing off the HP-41. They had the card reader, the bar code wand, the printer, and many other accessories. This was not just a calculator, but a real computing machine! Of the calculators they brought for the event, this one commanded the most attention. I did not even get to pick up the calculator, I could only watch as other students tried it out.

One guy bought a 41CV on the spot, and the bookstore let him borrow the wand to scan in any programs he wanted from the solutions books. I watched as he pulled an I/O port cover off of the calculator, plugged in the bar code wand, and scanned in program after program into his CV, pausing between programs to "pack" them in memory. This was SO COOL!! The calculator could hold so many programs, and each with its own alpha name. So much better than the TI-58C.

I started collecting all the advertising material I could get on the HP-41. My goodness, according to Hewlett Packard, it could even land the Space Shuttle! I envisioned the astronauts, faced with multiple computer system failure, pulling out their trusty HP-41, plugging a space shuttle control cable into one of those I/O ports, and executing the "LAND-ME" program on that 41, and letting that little machine take over! I HAD TO HAVE THIS CALCULATOR!!

The final straw. I came back from the summer, to start my senior year in engineering, and my new roommate had a 41C! Fortunately, I had come from a decent summer intern job, and had the cash to go immediately to the campus bookstore and buy my own 41CV and card reader! I still actually felt guilty about spending this much money on a "gadget". (I then sold my TI-58C to my girlfriend, [yes, I had one by then] who is now my wife, so I got it back!)

I learned that machine inside out. My girlfriend bought me the "HP-41 Synthetic Programming Made Easy" book (yes fellows, she was quite a catch!) and my roommate and I spent hours figuring out how to do strange things to each other's HP-41. Not too long after I bought my HP-41CV, Hewlett Packard came out with the HP-41CX. ARGGGGGG! Back to coveting again.

When I graduated (1984), I sold my HP-41CV to another engineering buddy, and took some graduation money and bought one of those HP-41CX's. It is still my primary calculator. At my first job, I actually programmed HP-41's to support semiconductor manufacturing. I had 12 of those little machines collecting inspection data from operators and sending it to an IBM compatible computer. (Fun job!)

I bought my first new scientific calculator after the HP-41CX a little more than a year ago. It is an HP-48GX. I have figured out how to play that MINEHUNT game, and that is about all I have used it for. I still use my HP-41CX to do my serious number crunching.

Long live the HP-41!


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