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Full Name (family, given): Vorkoetter, Stefan
Account Name: Stefan Vorkoetter
Contact: Stefan Vorkoetter
Location: Ontario, Canada
Entered: 13 Mar 2008, 10:40 a.m.

This is a brief history of my life as far as it relates to calculators. Some of the dates are approximate, simply because I don't remember them all exactly.

My first "calculator" was one of those mechanical devices that one operated with a stylus. Addiator is one brand of these, although I don't know if mine was that brand. I believe I had that one when I was in the fourth grade.

Not long thereafter (fifth grade maybe), my parents got me a Novus Mathbox. Not only was this my first electronic calculator, but it was also my first RPN calculator. It was a very limited device, having only a six-digit LED display and a decimal point fixed at two places. When multiplying, keeping track of where the decimal ought to be was up to the user (much like on a slide rule). When dividing, one had to enter trailing zeros in the dividend since the machine effectively only did integer operations (1 ENTER 3 DIVIDE would yield 0).

After the Mathbox, I used a number of calculators that my Dad gave me whenever he got a new one. Most of these were Commodore 4-function units with LED or vacuum-fluorescent displays.

My next calculator was a Commodore PR-100, which I believe I got while in the 7th or 8th grade. This was my first programmable. It had 10 memories and 72 non-merged program steps. It had only a single conditional operation, skip-if-negative. However, I spent many hours writing various programs for this machine (biorhythms, lunar lander, and days-between-dates come to mind). I used this calculator into my first year of high school (9th grade).

One day while our family was on a brief trip to Montreal, I spotted a pair of Texas Instruments SR-52 magnetic card programmables in a display case at Eaton's department store. By this time I'd been eyeing the TI-59 for a long time, but it was beyond my reach. The SR-52 was already discontinued and Eaton's was clearing them out for only (!) $149. I asked to try one, and the card reader didn't work. Fortunately the other one did work, and my parents bought it for me. This calculator was a huge improvement over my PR-100. It had 224 non-merged program steps, 20 memories, and most importantly, a way to save and reload programs. As I was in high-school now, I tended to write more serious programs. My greatest achievement on this calculator was probably the simultaneous equation solver that could handle 2 or 3 equations in 2 or 3 unknowns (respectively).

Later in high school (11th grade I think), I purchased a Sharp PC-1211 pocket computer. This little gem was programmable in BASIC, a language I was quite familiar with since I also had a TRS-80 desktop computer since the 9th grade. It had about 1.4k of memory and retained its programs when the power was off. I also had the cassette interface for it so I could save and reload programs. I used this computer until I graduated from high school (grade 13 at that time).

All through high school, I drooled over the HP calculators that were regularly advertised in Popular Electronics (to which our school library had a subscription). My favourite was the HP-34C and I longed to get one some day. I wonder if I would have been so open to the idea of an RPN machine if my first calculator (the Mathbox) hadn't been RPN?

By the time I finished high school, the HP-41C series was already well established, and during the summer before my first year of university, my parents got me an HP-41CV. This was my first RPN calculator in a long time and I was quickly hooked.

During my third year of university, I saw a new pocket computer that I wanted. I believe it was the Tandy PC-6 or the Casio equivalent. It had a clamshell design, was BASIC programmable, and had 8K of memory, expandable to 16K. At this point I sold my HP-41CV (big mistake) and TI SR-52 (medium mistake) to buy this new machine. I also still had my Sharp PC-1211, which I gave to my girlfriend (now my wife).

A few years later while I was in grad school, I tired of the pocket computer, and my wife got me a brand new HP-42S for Christmas. Finally back to HP! That was the last new calculator for quite a while and I used it up until about 1999, ten years into my career, when it started having keyboard problems (the "9" key wouldn't register).

Much to my dismay, HP didn't make any decent calculators any more at that point. I sent an e-mail around in our company to see if anyone had an old HP they wanted to be rid of, and a colleague offered me two non-functioning ones: an HP-19C and an HP-41CX. I graciously accepted both and performed the necessary repairs:

HP-41CX Repair Article

Article about My HP-19C

Shortly thereafter, I discovered eBay and started a small collection of HP calculators. I finally got that HP-34C that I've wanted since high school, and also have an HP-32E, two non-functioning HP-41Cs that I plan to repair, and an HP-67 whose card reader I still need to repair. I still have the aforementioned 19C and 41CX, both of which I use regularly. In the mean time the 42S started working again, so I still use that one too. And, my wife still has, and uses, the PC-1211.

I've also started collecting slide rules, but that is a separate story.

Edited: 25 Mar 2008, 11:54 a.m.


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