The Zen of HP Calculators, or Why Do We Do This?



#43

In recent days I was happily staring at the paper tape of my 82143 thermal printer while my 41CV worked hard to produce interim results in the convergence toward an integral. I was looking for about 7 significant digits and the problem took a few minutes, even though I know that Mathematica or Maple would give me at least that accuracy in the blink of an eye. Heck, even the flawed HP33s and the mocked TI83 I have work quite a bit faster.

This got me thinking about the broader question of Why? Why are we so enchanted by these machines still which, even though they were the alpha and omega in their day, are really obsolete when it comes to serious mission critical use? Is it an aesthetic thing? Nostalgia? A mistrust of newer and faster technologies that in the process of acquiring speed and efficiency have so little cachet, charm, and character?

All of these things are true for me. I love computer based software and really have enjoyed much of the free source code out there in my amateur efforts at C programming, but still their charms pale in comparison to satisfaction I get out of seeing an accurate result issue from an HP41.

I would like to see what people have to say, if only to distract from yet another flame war about how His Cobbubbaness is striving to cheat us all;

best,

Les


#44

For me, it's a matter of nostalgia. I was about 14 when I saw my first HP65, and it became a sacred example of state of the art computing power (at least power/weight ratio) and an example of excellence in design.

At 17, I blew all my savings on an HP25 which saw me through university until the HP41C came out. I blew my savings again to discover to my disappointment that HP had backslid badly. The thing lost memory often, fried regularly and ate N cells at a furious rate.

So I've been collecting the pre-41C models (at least for now) - as a reminder of the zenith of calculator engineering in days gone by.

I haven't had much interest yet in what the calculators actually
do, I just fondle them regularly.

PS: I'm not as bitter about my 41C as it may seem. It did teach me to never buy anything that's version 1.0.

Edited: 25 Jan 2007, 8:20 p.m.


#45

Early 41c calculators had a particularly hard time with static discharge, which often led to memory lost events.

N-cell batteries seemed to get eaten up quickly under two conditions (in my experience): 1) doing lots and lots of card reading and 2) playing games by running programs a lot.

I don't have any real problems with my very early 1932A S/N HP41c, even though it is now nearly 28 years old. Wow!

#46

Hello,

Nostalgia is one of the reasons why I collect. From the 67 that I played with while in high school to the 41CX that got me through university, and then the 48GX that helped me with field work, it was all about trusty products that were always there to help me get the job done.

RPN is another reason. As Luiz likes to remind us, it makes you think while doing a calculation in order to solve a problem. It is simple and efficient, period. It may not be the best programming language, but it is challenging to write code efficently, because memory is limited. With Intel churning out faster processors every month the very idea of efficient code has been lost to sheer computing power. The beautyfulness of simplicity? Probably.

My two cents.

#47

I've been recently bitten by the fatalistic nostolgic bug. To me, computer computing gives me the same feeling as the plastic dashboard of newer cars. Give me back the metal dash of my '55 Chevy, or '49 Ford PU!! In that same vein, I've started collecting and using things of ages gone by... old drafting tools (autocad does better, but doesn't give the same pleasure) a manual 1927 typewriter (unfortunately I'm doing this on a computer at the moment) a 1946 trombone, turn of the century mechanical pencil, etc. It's more rewarding to use something that many think are dead. They may not be "better" but they make me "feel" better. And heck, I'm only 43! (going on 70, but feel 25) :)

#48

My love affair with with the HP41 and all of my recently acquired peripherals is a reworking of the missed opportunities of youth. I splurged in 1984 on a 41CV I really couldn't afford, but then the thermal printer, wand, and various modules seemed pretty expensive--and they were! Now I can afford them all and enjoy them.

Edited: 26 Jan 2007, 5:13 p.m. after one or more responses were posted


#49

Les,

I'm glad I'm not the only one! That is exactely the reason for me. I had made it, after lots of trials and tribulations to the CV and then remember buying the XF a little while later. Now I can play with all the cool stuff, inlcuding MLDL's that people have build and I love it. Not that I am very good at it, but it just gives great memories. And thanks to Valentin and a few others once in a while a nice little challenge to program something!

Cheers

Peter

#50

"Why are we so enchanted by these machines........?"

They give corect answers to the questions we ask, wherever we work and in whatever weather. My 41s have exceded their specifications and my expectations many times over. Very few tools have become a part of me and the ones that have are pretty simple; p-38 can opener, David White hand level, Lowe Big Bird ice axe, the worm drive skillsaw and Plomb wrenches i inherited from my dad. I can not imagine getting attached to a cell phone, gameboy, TI XityX, or computer but any RPN calculator just seems like an extension of my failing brain. The 41/42 series make the most sense to me because i've used them more.

#51

How often do you need to do this? The things I need that take a long time to compute on the HP handhelds are not the ones I need very often. Suppose I only need it once in a blue moon and it takes enough time to compute that I can call a client or do other productive things while it's working on it. There's undoubtedly PC software I can use to do it much faster, and it may even be free; but it will take time to find it, download and install it, learn how to do what I want to do with it, etc., and I'm not going to do that while I'm doing other things. The next time I need it, I may no longer have the same PC, so then I have to go through the process again. There's more to computing value than blazing speed.

Although I use the PC every day, I also use my 41cx every day. For me it's not nostalgia. However most of the things I use my 41 for these days don't keep it working more than a second or two at a time. If a job takes much more, I'll usually turn to at least the HP71. The biggest job I've ever had the 41 do was control a bunch of IEEE-488 equipment for a test set-up at a workbench. The program was 20 pages. When the 41 was replaced with a 68000-based controller, the speed did not improve much, because both controllers spent much of their time waiting for filters to settle and readings to come back from the equipment.

#52

RPN - On an 'ordinary' calculator I keep pressing the wrong buttons (or rather the right buttons in the wron order!).

Mike T.

#53

Beacuse we can...

#54

Of late I haven't been "Doing This" nearly as much as you and some others, apparently.

But I think I do similar things -- I get completely absorbed in a reasonably complex area of interest, and feel a (presumably -- I have no legitimate experience for comparison) Zen-like state while so absorbed.

I suppose that, if such an area of interest includes some physical object as a prime component (or as the very center of focus), we find satisfaction in both the mental and physical realms. When the physical object is as nicely-realized as are many H-P calculators, how much greater the synergy in the combination of tactile, visual, audible and mental (emotional? SPRITUAL?) stimuli.

There is certainly an element of escapism in my involvements, and I know I can take that to an extreme.

Recently, my main "diversion" has been the sailboat. And the H-P is used primarily as a tool, not occupying the center of attention.

#55

I get a kick out of owning machines I came into contact with in school and early work career. The first device I ever programmed was an HP41C (with quad memory, and eventually XFunctions/Xmemory.) I believe the experience of learning to program on that machine gave me a huge advantage in school. I breezed through PDP-11 assembly programming because I was already familiar with stacks, registers and indirect addressing, for example.

But the 41C also ruined me for practically any other hand held calculating machine. The cause of this is deeper than RPN, though RPN is emblematic for what I'm getting at. The entire machine reeked with an obsessive attention to high quality. It wasn't just that HP didn't care that RPN was different, they reveled in it, telling anyone who would listen why it was better than alternative approaches. And they were right! The best contemporary so called "algebraic" entry systems were clunky beyond belief. Then there was the machine's physical quality. My HP-41C, unlike the earlier poster's was solid as a rock. (I did have a later model than the "1.0" version he complained about.) It wasn't just solid, it breathed solidity. The manuals taught me to program in an intuitive way. And they were great for reference too. Having spent almost half of my life now in Information Technology, I'm even more appreciative of the difficulty pulling that trick off. I could go on, but I would just sound like a skipping LP record. (If you don't know what those were, you may be in the wrong forum - just kidding.)

Today, and like Les, I get a charge out of owning hardware I couldn't afford in my youth. I go beyond calculators into the HP 80 series and 9000 systems I worked on in my first professional programming job. I also have fun networking the systems that support it. With all the distractions these diverse systems offer, it's perhaps surprising that the 41 remains near the top of my list of favorite machines. Sometimes the 71B steals first spot away for a while, but things like the MLDL2000 bring me back to the 41.

My current main 41 system is a halfnut CX with a MLDL2000, a 2X extended memory and HP-IL as needed. My current 71B main machine is a 2CDCC machine with Forth/Assembler in port 1, a 64K CMT EEPROM in port 2 containing the Math ROM, JPC-ex and several other of my favorite LEX files. Port 3 has a 64K CMT RAM, port 4 has a 32K CMT RAM and the card reader port has a 128K RAM module. I'm basically through building that system, I think. 8)

What I haven't said lately is how grateful I am for this forum. I truly feel at home here.

Regards,
Howard


#56

I agree with Howard, and I'd also like to add that I'm glad for HHC gatherings where someone like Howard and I can actually meet and get to know each other.

That's where I finally met Dave Hicks, Eric Rechlin, Eric Smith, db, Wlodek, my good friend Namir, Dave Ramsey, and the list goes on and on...

I really hope that more members of the forum can try to make the HHC2007 gathering, which will be the year of the 35th anniversary of the HP35.

Rumor has it that this may be in San Diego in September...


#57

I absolutely agree with that, Gene. The 2006 HHC meeting was my first. That means I met many of the folks I've gotten to know here for the first time. It was a huge pleasure. I'm definitely hooked on those meetings.

It's amusing that shortly after I expressed my gratitude for this forum, it went away! The only reason I can feel amused is that it came back, of course. May the wind always be at your back, MoHPC!

Regards,
Howard

#58

I wonder if Joe Horn reads this forum? Joe, if you're listening, it would be nice to see some photos from the HHC2006 conference (like those you posted from HHC2005).
For that matter, it would great if anybody/everybody that took photos would post them :-) I mentioned Joe because he's the guy that usually posts the conference details and registration information (i.e. thus being a central "meeting" location).

I don't think there was a group photo in 2006, but I know enough cameras were clicking to get examples of everyone that attended (including those that rode Vern Lindsey's Segway!).

Thanks for bring up the good memories (even though it was only four months ago :-)

Matt

#59

Quote:
What I haven't said lately is how grateful I am for this forum. I truly feel at home here.

Me too!

My wife jokes with me, saying I have found "my people".

She likes to watch the cooking shows and networks, calls it "food porn". I guess this is "calculator porn".

Les

#60

Quote:
... Is it an aesthetic thing? Nostalgia? A mistrust of newer and faster technologies... ?

I would like to suggest two points that don't seem to be mentioned above, but first let me describe the background (and forgive me my faint English, lacking clarity, pertinence, and, most of all, brevity).

I can still freshly recall the first day in my first job, now exactly 29 years (minus a week) ago. Two minutes after I first sat to my desk, my supervisor came up, withdrew that slab above the uppermost drawer right to me, and onto it, he put down his HP-25. (I even clearly remember him explaining the difference between the FIX and ENG display modes.) I had already known this model, as my math teacher had shown me his HP-25 (bought during a vacation in Swiss) for a while few years before that, and I was fully (albeit for the most part rather intuitively) aware of its peerlessness: In comparison with other contemporary brands, it was both tiny and robust in several aspects, starting with its keycaps (with threefold! legends), through the small yet sharp red (and left-adjusted) display, up to its inimitably shaped case. I soon noticed further attributes of its individuality and elaborate compactness, such as asymmetrically located battery pack, key merging into a single step, or memory arithmetics (e.g. STO * 7). Moreover, something similar did apply to the documentation:
from the quality of print to the quality of wording.

And, in particular, all that was obvious immediately, without comprehending any details or any principles. At grammar school, I had also met some TI and Commodore models, had been distinguishing their individual features (which they had positively had), but had at the first look seen brightly that the uniqueness of HP went far beyond them. Now the HP-25 was virtually mine (as my boss seldom had any use for it). Sadly, I didn't have any real and reasonable employment for it either. I learned how to program it, wrote a naive program to convert the thermocouple voltage to temperature, tried several programs from the manual... and that was nearly all (except for a few elementary calculations occasionally made). And within a year, I shifted to an HP 9845A, which is another story, however similar.

1. Personally, I feel I've been still owing something important to these little machines -- something I can return only now. Back then, I didn't have, for instance, a slightest idea of the CORDIC algorithm (and thought the trig functions were computed summing up a series) or of the constraints of digital IC design,
didn't know anything nontrivial about numerical math, and knew nothing of programming. Now it seems to be the right time to apprehend a bit better how these calculators, which fascinated me so much, have been made, and why.

2. It's nice to see there are still some values that survive for decades -- or, perhaps more precisely, it's nice (if not even nicer) to see that our ability to understand and appreciate such values is still persisting.

Well, too many words for too small an idea. But, after all, I would think the mere fact one remembers such stuff for so many years may indicate something by itself.

#61

Hello!

Quote:
Why are we so enchanted by these machines still which, even though they were the alpha and omega in their day, are really obsolete when it comes to serious mission critical use? Is it an aesthetic thing? Nostalgia? A mistrust of newer and faster technologies that in the process of acquiring speed and efficiency have so little cachet, charm, and character?

Most things have already been said by now, but since my wife keeps asking the same question whenever the postman brings another little box, I am reminded about it...

Is it an aestetic thing? Rather not. There are some aestehtically pleasing calculators (Braun, Alessi, Aristo, Omron, ...), but most of them are plain 4-funtion machines and not really of much interest to the (scientifically minded) calculator. Especially, I dont like Liquid Crystal Displays (at least black&white, or rather grey&grey ones), they are ugly and often hard to read. LED (especially Dot-Matrix-LEDs) or Panaplex Displays can be nice to look at, as well as Nixies, but most calculators are not aestetic as a whole. (For me!)

Nostalgia? Certainly. Nostalgia about long gone times, when scientists and engineers were still allowed to work with tools, that they could understand or would even have been able to build themselves. Now (in my field of aerospace engineering at least) things have become very abstract. I have no use at all for a pocket calculator at work, really absolutely zero use!, although my work involves millions of millions of calculations every day. So yes, there is probably some nostalgia involved, thinking about the days when I could work out basic things with a pocket calculator as a student.

Mistrust? Certainly! As I already stated in my last sentence, things have become very abstract. Engineers (and most other people relying on computations) mostly use other peoples computer programs without really knowing or understanding, what goes on inside. You habe to believe in the results you get without a chance, to fully verify them. 20 years ago, there was a least a theoretic chance to confirm the results you got through other peoples methods.

And of course, there is this wish, unfulfilled 20 years ago, to own things that were too expensive to own then. A bit like 50ish men who buy the sports cars they could not afford when they were 20. This feeling or better "satisfaction" of "Mine - at last!" when putting an hp-80 or 41CX or whatever collectable into the drawer with the other calculators is probably a big part of the magic elixir, calculator collectors draw their power of ;-)

Greetings, Max

#62

For me, the single most important feature lacking in modern devices is the absence of an immediate and simple programming interface.

I want to make my cell phone do new things - on-the-fly - without any downloads or compiling or paying any licenses or any other hassle.

I want to make a magick alarm clock out of my calculator, and voilá; the UAC on the HP-41CX. That immediate possibility of full control enhances creativity, sharpens the intellect and is very practical.

Then there is the matter of long battery life in a mobile device.

Then there is pure nostalgia.

Then there is the ease and elegance of FOCAL.

And then there is expandability of the HP-41 or the HP-71 etc.

Then there is the LEDs of the HP-67 that doesn't kill my night vision when out with my telescope.

Then there is the possibility of printing on the handheld HP-19C.

Then there is the wow-factor of the HP-01 or even the HP-35 or HP-19C.

My interest for mathematics, physics, astrophysics etc. is constantly fueled by the neat calculators.

And finally, my glass cupboard in my office with 21 calculators on display attracts interest and is a nice conversation starter (not that I need any ;)


#63

Hello!

Quote:
Then there is the LEDs of the HP-67 that doesn't kill my night vision when out with my telescope.

First, out of curiosity: What do you calculate with your hp-67 when stargazing? I am also an amateur astronomer since many years, but I have never found a good reason to take a calculator with me...

And second: If you google for "red myth" you will find articles like this one here: http://stlplaces.com/night_vision.html explaing that it is solely the intensity, but not the colour of light that makes you lose your night adaptation.

Greetings, Max


#64

Quote:
First, out of curiosity: What do you calculate with your hp-67 when stargazing? I am also an amateur astronomer since many years, but I have never found a good reason to take a calculator with me...

Field of view;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyepiece

http://www.davidpaulgreen.com/tec.html

or actual light differences between objects of different magnitude...

Quote:
And second: If you google for "red myth" you will find articles like this one here: http://stlplaces.com/night_vision.html explaing that it is solely the intensity, but not the colour of light that makes you lose your night adaptation.

Red led is far better than LCD and a flashlight (or LCD with no light :)


#65

Hello!

Quote:
Field of view;

Oh, I only have two telescopes and about fife eyepieces that I really like to use, so the number of fields of view that I can get from all possible combinations just fits in my short term memory ... still no excuse for carrying a calculator with me ;-)

Quote:
Red led is far better than LCD and a flashlight (or LCD with no light :)

Thats right for sure, but you still need the flashlight to illuminate the keyboard of your calculator :-( Why does nobody manufacure calculators with back-lit keyboards (like every cellphone has) ?

Clear Skies, Max


#66

Quote:
Oh, I only have two telescopes and about fife eyepieces that I really like to use, so the number of fields of view that I can get from all possible combinations just fits in my short term memory ... still no excuse for carrying a calculator with me ;-)

What? You can't make that an excuse for carrying a calculator with you in the field? You need a serious bug-bite. So, what about double-star calculations, some ephimeris or even timing of events (HP-55)? And the Julian Day number!

Quote:
Thats right for sure, but you still need the flashlight to illuminate the keyboard of your calculator :-(

Put the calculator keyboard into your memory instead, removing the FOV data should make room for half a keyboard - enough to make the calculator usefull :-)

Edited: 29 Jan 2007, 4:23 a.m.

#67

Quote:
For me, the single most important feature lacking in modern devices is the absence of an immediate and simple programming interface.

I want to make my cell phone do new things - on-the-fly - without any downloads or compiling or paying any licenses or any other hassle.


The cellular carriers don't want you to do this. They want to unlock the features they choose, at the price they want to charge. If you are free to implement client software that does something similar to their expensive, server based solutions, or particularly something they don't offer at all, that is annoying to them.

This is a trend in general computing, of course. Take a close look at the DRM in the upcoming Windows Vista OS. The future planned for us by the network carriers and content monopolists, eagerly aided by Microsoft, IBM and others, is one in which our power to shape our digital destinies will be sharply curtailed. There are forces opposing this trend, but it's unclear to me how it will all shake out.

Regards,
Howard

#68

Hi, Les --

Quote:
Why? Why are we so enchanted by these machines still which, even though they were the alpha and omega in their day, are really obsolete when it comes to serious mission critical use? Is it an aesthetic thing? Nostalgia? A mistrust of newer and faster technologies that in the process of acquiring speed and efficiency have so little cachet, charm, and character?

It's a good philosophical question. The previous posters have cited as reasons the nostalgia for coveted products unattainable in one's youth, as well as the quality and accessiblity of the products. These are my motivating factors, as well.

But there is also something more fundamental: The desire to preserve a line of fine consumer products from a premier American technological corporation, produced in an earlier era when their core values of engineering "steered the ship". Quality and excellence was imbued in all aspects of calculators and other products by H-P. Considerable effort, resources, and money were clearly invested in the development of the products -- which was possible because the professional market supported them.

Today is a different era, with the globalized economy fostering a "race to the bottom" of lower wages and salaries in developed nations, slim profit margins in many sectors, and cut-throat pricing. Rapid advancement of electronic technology has also diminished the incentive to develop products of enduring quality: What's "cutting-edge" today will be obsolete tomorrow, so why should a consumer product be designed and engineered thoughtfully and thoroughly?

-- KS

Edited: 27 Jan 2007, 10:38 p.m. after one or more responses were posted


#69

Well said.

I've been thinking about the "Wal Mart Effect" (and reading the book of the same name) lately. I've started to draw some conclusions of my own regarding the root cause of the phenomena. If you look at it from the standpoint of an HP calculator enthusiast, what you see is a distressing tendency for consumers (in the consumer driven economies of the developed world, at least) to trade quality for low price. So for example, Levi Strauss sells jeans in Wal Mart, but they aren't the nicely made ones that they sell elsewhere. In response to pressure from Wal Mart to bring the price down, they've come up with a "value" line of denim products that are scarcely distinguishable from the Chinese imports that Wal Mart also pushes. So people at Wal Mart are paying a small premium for the Levi's name, but not the high quality the brand has been known for for 150 years or so.

This approach works. People buy low cost/adequate quality products. The whole world gets less expensive, and cheaper at the same time.

But the really significant thing about all this is that production is relentlessly shifted from the developed world to the developing world. For the American economy, the case of Mexico is instructive. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) established the "maquilidora" system, whereby factories in Mexico, funded with US dollars, could export into the United States on favorable terms. Northern Mexico went into high gear, and established hundreds of these factories after the passage of NAFTA. But it now appears that the average $2.00(US)/hour workers in these factories are paid is too high for the global economy. Manufacturing is flying off to China and other places where the costs are half as high.

So we see manufacturing chasing the absolute lowest labor cost attainable. The goods from these factories are cheap, but not because of shoddy practice in manufacturing. They are cheap because they have to be inexpensive to get on the shelves at Wal Mart. So the designers obsessively cut corners to reduce cost.

What will be the end result of these processes? Obviously, manufacturing will continue to look for cheap labor. But as the developing world benefits from the increased investment in manufacturing infrastructure, the costs in those places will inevitably rise. Perhaps there is an equilibrium in this at some point in the future? Do the standards of living in the developed world fall, while those in the developing world rise until today's steep differentials in income get leveled out? Ultimately, that may be a good outcome. But if that's possible, there are surely many traps to extricate from or avoid along the way to that egalitarian result. And the dislocation in the meantime is likely to be painful.

Regards,
Howard

Edited: 27 Jan 2007, 5:36 p.m.


#70

An interesting turn this thread has taken, I almost hate to hijack it back on topic, but, what the heck.

People who collect things, any things, generally see more in them than the objects themselves. They see them in context to the social and/or technical fabric they exist or existed within (if those two can be seperated), whether that social/technical fabric was personal or exclusively societal.

The object comes to embody, represent, clarify, or explain the movement of ideas or social forces in our history.

This is no mistaken perception. All the inventions of man's mind explain man's mind in addition to fulfilling a specific physical purpose. It's just that it takes more energy to see or want to see the broader contexts. Sometimes that energy comes from nostalgia, or sometimes it just comes from natural curiosity and interest in resolving the unbroken line of the development of things.


#71

Quote:

The object comes to embody, represent, clarify, or explain the movement of ideas or social forces in our history.


You mean that all this time, I've been playing with .. symbols? 8)

For me, lots of threads run through my HP calculator hobby. Apart from the fact that my calculators are artifacts of of pre-Wal Mart America, the development of these machines represent an important contribution to the then (and still) emerging art of user interface design. The design of the 41C keyboard, and particularly that of the 42S, show HP engineers struggling with increased complexity in devices whose design rationales included simplifying the user's life. You can also see what networking looked like before TCP/IP achieved its Darwinian domination of the world. (And before end nodes had enough horsepower to drive encryption at gigabit speeds!) I could go on in this vein, but I won't. (See "LP record, above. 8)


Suffice to say I agree with your point that the symbolic value of collecting (and using!) these machines is paramount.

Regards,
Howard

#72

Howard,

Well stated.

tm

#73

Quote:
The previous posters have cited as reasons the nostalgia for coveted products unattainable in one's youth, as well as the quality and accessiblity of the products. These are my motivating factors, as well.

Same here. Nostalgia.
My first programmable calculator was a ... TI-57, in 1979 IIRC. Some buddies had HPs, 25 and 33E. Drool... Then with the money earned in the summer, got myself an HP-34C, my first HP!
I loved the solve and integrate, and complex mode. I was so proud!

I remember seeing HP41s, and they looked so incredibly cool, mostly because of the alphanumerical display. But they were so expensive...
In 85, got an HP15C (that I still own to this day). Just love it.

In recent years, I acquired a 48G ($50) and a 41C ($60). But I still miss my 34C. Nostalgia ...

I guess it's not just the nostalgia of the machines, it's the nostalgia of an era when real engineers where using HP hardware, not made in China. Oh well.

-- alain.

#74

"are (HP calculators) really obsolete when it comes to serious mission critical use?"

NO! I love my calculators because I use them, when I need them.

If I need to number crunch, I use my computer. If I just need to add/multiply/divide/subtract a few numbers, or need a few trig functions, or a few logs/exponents, I bring out the calcs. I can open my desk drawer and start punching buttons a lot faster than I can find an emulator on my PC and start moving the mouse around. I also tend to contemplate the math challenges in the Tau Beta Pi magazine when I am lying in bed before I fall asleep. I have a calculator bedside, ready if I need it - I'm not going to drag out the computer there!


#75

Calculators are immensely useful for small calculations, computers are not easy to use for simple number crunching (code, compile, debug, run... to invert a matrix ???). On the other hand, old machines (15+ years) are not that practical for everyday use. I wouldn't want to be caught naked ... hum I mean ... with a calculator lacking the necessary punch (or clout), but frankly nowadays I use more modern scientific machines.

So why collect ? In my case it it clearly a sickness of the mind by which you have to POSSESS objects. Here we have artifacts of an incredible past where things would work due to mere ingenuity. I'm sure many of you fellow collectors also collect other things past calculators. From time to time grows the urge to purchase a new calc, and I start hunting. This sounds like serial killing, only no casualties involved. When I get a very nice one, the period before I feel the urge again is longer. Weird I know. Now children take more of my mind, and that "urge" is less present (to my somewhat despair).

Collecting calculator has a true interest (to preserve an importanty part of our technological past), but it also something in us.

My $0.2


#76

Serial killing = Going after an even lower serial number

Edited: 30 Jan 2007, 3:41 a.m.

#77

Hello!

Quote:
So why collect ? In my case it it clearly a sickness of the mind by which you have to POSSESS objects.

Yes, definitely. Watching them in a museum or using them at work just isn't enough! And some memories of expensive items you once were allowed to work with never seem go away, so you keep looking for your own one.

Quote:
I'm sure many of you fellow collectors also collect other things past calculators.

Either you are a collector, or you are not. It seems to be an addiction just like any other. My wife dosen't understand it, she obviously lacks the bit of dna-chain that makes you prone to this behavoiour. I would collect everything (no, not everything, my grandfather collected stamps and tried to interest me for them as well, but never succeeded), almost everything at least, if I had the money, the time and the storage space... so presently, I limit myself to calculators and ViewMaster Reels.

Quote:
Now children take more of my mind, and that "urge" is less present (to my somewhat despair).

I take my little son along when I go to flea markets :-) Children and collecting go very well together!

Greetings, Max


#78

Quote:

Watching them in a museum or using them at work just isn't enough! And some memories of expensive items you once were allowed to work with n


The machines that worked that way for me were the 9816 and later the 9000/3XX machines, all running RMB. I helped maintain a suite of hydrographic survey applications on the platform. The 9816 was perfect for taking offshore because it was a miracle of great power in a small, portable and rugged package. The BASIC was an eye opener for me, having cut my teeth on Applesoft BASIC, and later MBASIC. I was delighted to see aspects of FORTRAN and Pascal in the language. I was also astonished with the performance of the machine when doing I/O. The application we created integrated input from radio navigation for surface Nav, bathymetric data for the bottom , sidescan SONAR, and range finding SONAR on targets. We logged all this data and displayed it in real time in a variety of ways. It was really, really cool. I couldn't believe the whole thing was driven by an interpreted BASIC. The 9816 used a 68000, which I was already enamored of. (I had a brand new Amiga 1000 at home.)

All of that is preamble to say that my desire to own a 9816 now (long since satisfied) is due to my direct experience of the incredible power that little machine was capable of. The HP-41 and the 9816 are the two anchors of my retrocomputing obsession. The former led me to explore most of other HP calculators, from the 35 through the 50G. The 9816 got me to acquire 80 series machines and HP-IB peripherals.

An odd thing about my infatuation with machines I used at work is this: it went away after I moved on from that survey job. I went to work at the UCSB Physics department after that, supporting VAX/VMS exclusively for a couple of years. Those systems were of high quality, and quite a bit more powerful than the 9816. There were even workstation versions available fairly soon after I started. There's a VAXStation 3200 on eBay right now I could snap up. But I just don't feel the same way about those machines. Maybe that's because it was quickly clear that the VAX was doomed because of Sun, Apollo, and later HP and IBM, and the small, RISC based, Moore's Law surfing Unix workstations. I soon started supporting these sort of machines, learning Unix in the process, and never looked back at the VAX. That ended up being the great theme of my career - Unix, and later Linux.

I left the 9816 when it was obsolete (The 68040 was going in to new HP9000/300 systems) but still quite useful due to its packaging. I never saw it become useless, so its allure for me was never tarnished. I don't know if that's the core reason for my attitude today or not. I just know that I have this desire to collect 9816s, and not VAXen.

Regards,
Howard

#79

Quote:
This got me thinking about the broader question of Why? Why are we so enchanted by these machines

I'm a little too young for "nostalgia" to be a valid reason
(my first HP was a 28S when I was in college), and I'm more
of a user than a collector, anyway -- no calculator of mine
is going to sit unused in a display case.

I'm attracted to HP calculators for the same reason I enjoy
handmade pocket knives, or IBM model M keyboards, or my antique
goban and go stones. They are beautiful objects that are pleasant
to use and through which can be seen the intelligence of their
maker.

#80

Hi Les,

As Karl wrote:

Quote:
The previous posters have cited as reasons the nostalgia for coveted products unattainable in one's youth, as well as the quality and accessiblity of the products. These are my motivating factors, as well.

I fully agree. In addition, IMHO the Seventies and Eighties of last century also (still) stand for a period of "good design", represented by the sentence "form follows function" and products like those of BRAUN (the razor company). So, besides (and after) striving for a 25C because it was my first HP, I collect(ed) other models because I love their industrial design (27s, 42s, 32s and the Woodstocks), because I saw them appearing (35 and 45), because I admire their power and benefit per cm^3 (Voyagers), because I couldn't afford them then (65, 67, 41C) - and also some models in spite of their design (e.g. 20s, 32sii, 28s) but for sake of completeness of the line of scientifics.

My 0,02 Euros.


#81

Hi, Walter --

Quote:
In addition, IMHO the Seventies and Eighties of last century also (still) stand for a period of "good design", represented by the sentence "form follows function" and products like those of BRAUN (the razor company).

I'd certainly agree with that statement, in particular the mid-to-late 1980's, when inflation rates eased and all remnants of 1970's garishness had disappeared. Products tended to be sensible and well-designed. The cost-cutting pressure of inflation was lower than in recent history, and the intense competition in pricing from dirt-cheap third-world labor had not yet materialized. Thus, manufacturers felt more secure to build things well, and it showed.

I'm still using a lot of 1980's consumer goods that still look and work great -- a 1989 Braun shaver, a 1988 television (American-engineered), a 1981 Seiko wristwatch, German cars from 1986 and 1989, and even a 1985 vacuum cleaner with a solid metal body. Service people for the watch and vacuum have told me that the newer models from the same manufacturers just aren't made as well.

In fact, just today I read a newspaper article from the Associated Press concerning planned obsolecence and short product lifespans. The culprits were disposable, cheap manufacturing and rapidly-advancing technology.

A post of mine several years ago on this topic didn't get any response, but I'd be interested in what others think of the era, and what they still use:

http://www.hpmuseum.org/cgi-sys/cgiwrap/hpmuseum/archv014.cgi?read=68991#68991

-- KS


#82

"A post of mine several years ago on this topic didn't get any response, but I'd be interested in what others think of the era, and what they still use:"

Our primary TV set is a Montgomery Ward from the late 80's,

My back-up, fun, car is a 1986 Subary XT,

My electric razors are a pair of 80's vintage Norelco's,

My PC keyboards (all 4 of them) are IBM PC/AT ones, from the early to mid 80's. None better has ever been built - they are 20 years old and still going strong - and they have the function keys on the left, where you can hit them with your little finger and don't have to reach for the mouse to use the DOS (or windows) versions of WordPerfect - another 80's product whose functionality for what you really need to do in word processing has not been exceded.

My matress (Sealy) was bought in 1974 (and my wife and I still have fun there)!

Guess I'm a real dinosuar.

#83

I used to have a 1980's vintage TV, before I stopped watching television. It was a "GE" branded set, which means Panasonic, I believe. I bought it at K-Mart (The discount chain that used to be called "Kresge's." Wal Mart ran them out of business in the 90s) for $249, if I recall correctly. The year was 1987. It went off to the Goodwill still perfectly functional after 18 years of use.

Now of course they've finally brought the price of HD-TV sets down to where the middle class in the US can consider buying one. But every one of the new sets come with DRM on their inputs. That means they will check to be sure you have a license to play that video before they let you do it. A triumph for technology, no doubt, but a loss for individual autonomy in the dawning digital age.

But other than that, and my retrocalculator collection, I have no 1980s artifacts, except a couple of paintings. I don't know about overall quality decline. I do see how the Wal Mart effect tends to reduce quality. But on the other hand, it also makes much that was unaffordable in the past affordable today. So my tastes can go up the scale even while the quality is headed the other way. What irony!

What made the 70s and 80s special for calculator design was the combination of three factors, in my opinion. First, the handheld electronic calculator was being invented, which drew bright people into the field. Second, big companies threw significant resources behind the development of these machines. That meant hiring the bright people mentioned in the first point, among other things. Third, calculator users needed the product the big companies were producing, and were willing to pay big bucks for them.

So the effect of all that was that HP made most of its money from calculators for a time. They had the courage to invent the devices, and the markets for them, through the vision of one of the founders. But after that, the markets they pioneered dictated that they throw very large resources at research, development and marketing of their flagship products. This resulted in the splendid examples of the designers art, which we all celebrate here to this day. It also made for an eventual inevitable decline in HPs support of these machines, as the center of gravity of the electronics business moved into PCs, PDAs, printers and other paraphernalia.

So for me, that means I have to look elsewhere for examples of excellence in human effort. I find that excellence mainly in software, these days. Not in the execrable excretions of mighty Microsoft, but in Linux and other Free/Libre software. But that's a discussion for a message board with a different focus.

Reards,
Howard

#84

Keeps us off the streets?


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