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Posted by Andrew Burg on 28 July 2000, 12:45 a.m.
For my High School graduation present in 1971 my parents bought me a beautiful Keuffel & Esser Slide Rule. I never used it (sigh) and sold it on eBay in 1999 for 36 bucks. But shortly after I got the gift, I saw the most amazing thing - a four-banger calculator by Sharp - no memory. I think I paid $140, new, but it was worth it. I remember the green fluorescent display and so many digits too - eight of them!
I used the Sharp for a while, then in 1973 a guy showed me this HP-35 thing. The data entry was weird, but I caught on in a few milliseconds, it was so natural. I had to have it. I sold my Sharp for $70 to a student I was tutoring and I was able to buy that beautiful 35 - used. I didn't have the foresight or the money to see if there was an upgraded model, the word upgrade didn't exist until Microsoft came on the scene many years later. So I bought that 35. I think I paid $150, but it was sure worth it.
In 1975 I had a friend who also had one. He said "Hey - I know this guy - give me your 35 and 50 bucks and he'll re-wire it and turn in into a 45." "What are you - crazy? Give you my 35 *AND* 50 bucks??!!" But he was a good, trusted friend and the 45 was even cooler.
A week later, the calculators were ready. But I didn't want to wait to have mine shipped. Since I was a private pilot (we always need places to go), I could fly up to San Jose and get the calculators directly from Steve - the guy. He was somebody working at Hewlett Packard who designed calculators, that's all I knew. He had a few spare test chips or, um, "leftovers" and I got a great newer calculator. I met him at the airport and he was "thrilled to death" that I would take him up for a buzz around. Then my father (my travelling companion) bought us all lunch. Steve had 43 cents in his pocket.
I later modified my 45 by putting a crystal in so the timer was accurate and also modified the [Enter] key to make the timer easy to access. How wonderful. I had a serious scientific calculator and timer all in a single package. I used it for chemistry, physics, electronics and other college stuff! I also timed eating, sleeping, peeing and anything else that took more than a hundredth of a second. As I used it, I thought how neat it would be to be able to automate some routines I did all the time. Little did I know of the future to come...
Steve and I had fun. He gave me spare parts and an "old" HP-80 (that I repaired) and I even built an HP-55 too. He visited me, we played with modems, VCRs (in those days a box more than a cubic foot) and other stuff. One day we were "hangin' out" and he says "Hey - let's build a computer." He sat down on the living room floor and proceeded to do so. I visited him and he showed me around at other friend Steve's (#2) garage and some circuit boards there, his mother made us sandwiches and Steve #1 says "Hey, Andrew... Why don't you move up here and help me start a computer company?" I said "I'm not ready to move out of my parents' house yet." But I visited again and was impressed. It was too late, Steve Wozniak went on without me. I never met Steve Jobs again, but I hear he's been successful too.
In college I worked in the bookstore. People came in to buy TI's because they were cheap. When I demonstrated the HPs they sold easily.
I always had my HP with me. In college, I carried it with my books instead of wearing it on my belt so as not to wear out the leather case. Once in the computer lab I turned around and my trusty 65 was gone. There was no time to panic. I made a beeline for the lab door and closed it. In a booming voice I announced that I might have misplaced it. By the time I got back to my station it was returned!!
I remember one of the programs Woz wrote for the 65: Assume you're travelling X miles per hour and cop is on the side of the road. You estimate that it will take him Y seconds to start moving and his speed, Z, how long will it take him to catch you?
I've modified hundreds of calculators and modules. I doubled the speed of the machines, put modules inside the calculator and combined up to three modules in a single package. I also sold hundreds of aluminum carrying cases. The case held the 41, printer, barcode wand, spare paper, batteries and modules all in foam. It was a hit. I recently learned to repair the mushy card reader rollers, restoring my machine to normal, but never learned much about synthetic programming, though I wanted to.
I bought my sister an HP-25. After 15 years or so it was lost. I forgot that it was a 25 and recently bought her a non-working 21 on eBay. I fixed it and gave it to her - then she found her 25. So I sold the 21. I could not fix the 25 completely, so I sold it too...
Over time I've had an HP 35, 45 (hand wired), 55, 80, 65, 67, 95, 97, 41 and a 25 for my sister. I also had clear cases (engineering test or marketing units) for the 45, 67 and 97 and MANY spare parts. I still have a few keys, port covers, print heads and other stuff, but not much. I even have an HP Diagnostic ROM somewhere. It was used by the factory for checking out machines. Boy, I'll bet there's some synthetic code in that! However, all my calculators (except the 41), clear cases and most of my spare parts (it was all in a large box) were stolen in a robbery in 1990, a heavy sentimental loss as well as the loss of these wonderful collectors items.
Epilogue: During the writing of this memory (pun intended) I just bought my second 41C (eBay, $28) for spare parts. I know my wife will think it's more junk, but I know you know the sentimental and technical value of having a spare. Woz and I send each other birthday greetings at the appropriate times. He enjoys teaching kids and I'm looking for another job... http://www.andrewsite.com/resume
Also please see what I have on display at San Diego's prestigious Reuben H. Fleet Science Center http://www.andrewsite.com/museum
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