HP calculator Magazine article...what would you say?


I got the email below today. If this were you, what would you say about HPs? I'm thinking of trying to mention the current sad state of affairs where HP seems to have abandoned the calculator business...again, it this were you, what would you say? Respond quickly!


I'm a contributing news editor for .... The assignment desk has asked me to write a 2,000-word news story on the continued allure of H-P calculators, old and new....Questions will focus on your interest in them and why you think the H-P calcs have such a cult following.


(PLEASE, I´M FROM BRAZIL; I do not have knowledge enough to write in English as I do in Portuguese; forgive the mistakes...)

Can I try something? Just to warm-up the engines...

"Many professionals now in the hole world have graduated with the help of a valuable, foolproof tool: a Hewlett Packard calculator. Despite being this or that model, RPN - from Reverse Polish Notation - is the real tailoring feature that allowed many of them to easily solve the most difficult mathematical equations, without having to think of the use of the calculator itself rather then the problem to be solved. This amazing stack-based operating system facilitates and improves reasoning, causing a focused neural activity, so the user is able to go beyond. (mam...)

Unfortunately this wonder is about to become unavailable to the new generation. Hewlett-Packard will no longer offer calculators with RPN system, claiming there is no interest from regular calculator users. The most probable consequence is a big lack of reasoning capability of the next-generation professionals, that will become ready-to-use SW dependants."

(Please, don’t laugh a lot...)


I think Luiz has touched on the main reason (pun intended).

The demographics of those for whom the old(er) HPs have an allure would probably be most revealing. For example, within an 8-metre radius of my work desk there are two 15Cs and a 16C. The owners are all IT professionals in their late thirties or early forties. The Voyagers were released when we were entering either college or the workplace in the early eighties.

From the content of postings to this board, I gather that I'm at the younger end of the spectrum. And we seem to have a good cross-section of engineers (electrical and mechanical) and few financial services professionals. (Any mathemeticians or theoretical physicists?).



Do I feel smoke in the air?

I wrote:

"The most probable consequence is a big lack of reasoning capability of the next-generation professionals, that will become ready-to-use SW dependants."

I didn't write:

"The SURE consequence is a TOTAL LOSS of reasoning capability of the next-generation professionals, that will become COMPLETE ready-to-use SW dependants."

I'm a teacher, I'm 40 Y.O. and I deal with students that are 17 to 45 Y.O. I always try to show them that the best solution is the existing one if the new one does not satify the problem's request.

When I wrote the text I intended to call others to complete, change, react AND give their own opinions. I use Linux as well as Windows 3.11 and ME, if SW needs requests so. I try not to be stuck in time.

But I can no longer use a equals-key, A.O.S. calc. After first result is shown, I enter the next number, press one of the two-number function's key and wait for the result that never comes and... first result lost.

Maybe this is of no worth, but I trully believe that RPN understanding and use take the same effect of a chess game or any other healthy neural activity. As chess masters can virtualy see as many movements as needed to a checkmate, the RPN user sometimes see the register stack and it's contents moving as a result of the use of this or that command (I do). is this a healthy neural activity or not?

Or else I'm wrong.


Cameron wrote:

<<From the content of postings to this board, I gather that I'm at the younger end of the spectrum. And we seem to have a good cross-section of engineers (electrical and mechanical) and few financial services professionals. (Any mathemeticians or theoretical physicists?).>>

Some time ago, there was a thread about the global location of "subscribers" to this site. Age and occupation/interests is also quite fascinating, I feel. Perhaps David (Hicks)could set up a small area where regular posters/lurkers could add a small description of themselves. For me it would make the names I see every day "come alive".

For example, I'm 36, male (goes without saying, I guess!) and a computer programmer, mainly MS Windows using Borland's Delphi. No childhood/school/university memories of HP at all, except a realisation, with hindsight, that the guys at school playing LEM on a calculator with a card reader and those big slanty keys with dozens of functions on each must have had rich dads. I had a Commodore :-(



I would endorse, if I may, Chris's idea of having an area to post bios of the frequent contributors to this great site. How about it Dave?

As for myself, I am a 35 year old male physical chemist (PhD '99), specializing in optical and (increasingly) mass spectroscopy. My arrival into the HP calculator world dates back to the mid eighties. My very first calculator in high school was a TI 55, which really wasn't bad, and cheap, and then I had a TI 59 for a while, which was my first exposure to programmable calculators. There are a lot of formulas in my business, and I've always been fascinated with programming, just making a machine DO things. Then I took a junior college algebra course one summer while still in high school, and in class they had an HP 67 tied down to a desk with one of those security cradles. I still remember that the first thing that drew me to it was the keys. There is (was?) something tactile about the keys of an HP, raised and slanted slightly, that makes you feel like you can just fly over the keyboard. You notice this distinctly on an exam, and they let us use the HP 67 on exams in that class. Then I looked up the price of one of these and about fainted. I waited impatiently until I was a couple of years into college, and the student store (at UC Berkeley) had discounts on HP's, and I bought my 41CX that I still have and use today. Constant memory and getting to see the actual commands in a program made it an absolute dream. The other big advantage of the 41 and other HP's was the application pacs. They, and the peripherals, said to the user, this really is a serious tool, for professional applications. Long live EduCALC, gone but not forgotten.

Well, I've gone on long enough.

Gene, it looks like you have a bit of an editing job but I'm sure you have enough for 2000 words, from the various postings.

Best regards to all,

Ion Abraham
Albuquerque, New Mexico


I´ve been a lot in here for these days, sorry!

I´m not posting my Bios right now, as Mr. Abrahan have (partially) done, but I would like people to know about me, too. I´m a 40 Y.O. male, Electrical Eng. (1990) to be post-graduated in Digital Signal Processing (this year, if no problems delay it), I teach classes for Electronics, Telecom and Computer Science for technicians. As soon as we have a Bios Place in here (Hello, Mr. Hicks; will you build this room for us?), I would be glad sharing information with other peolpe, in this field or any others.

Thanks, best regards.

(should this be a new thread or not?)


I like the idea too, and if possible with room for a photo, contact information (maybe...)


There should be something to look at within a few days.


Personally, I would choose to answer the questions themselves, which are:

1. What is the allure of the H-P calculator?

2. Why do the calculators have a cult following?

In answering the things the poor writer is trying to write about, perhaps enough of your opinion will make it through his mental sieve to get on paper...

...but negativism and defeatism smell bad. Sure it's the story you or I might write, because it has meaning (direct consequence) to our own lives. But the effect you desire (to make someone care enough to change the future) is not done with dark pictures of lost pasts and endangered species-- you can't make anyone really *care* UNTIL they want to be a part of the "cult", too.

So I'm suggesting you be a cheerleader. Mention the feel of those keys as they click... nothing else made like a classic HP calc keyboard. Mention the sophisticated looks of a strictly professionally-oriented tool, made for the job. Talk about the reliabiity and lasting quality built into the best of these babies; from multi-shot molded key legends to extraordinary ruggedness that saw many of us through CAREERS.

The precision appeal of a BMW or Mercedes in a pocket-device: HP's high initial prices made them a bit of a conspicuous show of wealth to some, but no one would deny that, once you owned one, you'd never go back to anything else. The service of dealers and the company in its heyday was exactly as befitted an audience of professionals, from architects to engineers to CPAs, graduate students and statisticians. You can take your favorite HP and heft it in your hand and describe all that made you starve for a month until you could afford to own one of your own...

Talk about collecting and rehabilitating old calculators, so they live again and look as beautiful as they should. Or of their value as a collectible-- what others throw out bringing a nice price, because nothing else made now compares. How collecting calcs contrasts a time when purposeful tools could be understood and their usefulness grasped nearly completely... and yet these are the step-programmmable things that some of us learned which acclimated us to Computers and Programming concepts themselves.

And the stories Dave collects, in the Memories section, tell of 15c batteries that last years... and modifications to a CALCULATOR that remind one of racing-enthusiasts poking under the hoods of their GTOs. The looks and odd reactions of others trying their Algebraic fingers on your suitably unapologetic RPN genie (heh heh). The cult following, and the allure, of HP calculators is unmistakable and, once you've learned your calc's ways, unavoidable!!! But you've gotta experience it for yourself, or in the case of this article somebody is writing, you've gotta make them feel like they might like the experience, too.

If many more people had learned to savor the VALUES that made HP calcs so great, some company (maybe even HP) would be there to market machines to that hungry crowd. A "cult" is, by definition, a rather small group, operating in a limited time of its own; I prefer to think the Religion of dedicated, well-built, premium tools and their savvy practitioners has a widespread and eternal appeal. But it would do us much good to evangelize!


Thanks, Glynn; I really did not see this way. My speech was wrong. My focus was wrong.

"...negativism and defeatism smell bad."



gene; cult following? lucky you; you get to explain to someone who just writes for thoes who just read why people who do things (like design roads and machines or build structures or fly spacecraft or play with other peoples money...) use hp and rpn. i think the allure is that in cases like these the best is just barely good enough. and thats really BARELY because i've got an idea for the perfect calculator......


dmartinez wrote:
the best is
just barely good enough. and thats really BARELY because i've got an idea for the perfect calculator......

Well, don't keep us holding our breath! Tell us about it!
Does it include a 1GB CompactFlash hard drive?
Bluetooth? Alarm clock/calendar. Geekport(TM)?
Color display? Embedded C and Linux?
IRDA ports on Coke machines? Sonic or IR tape measure?
Easily available schematics and source code? (for hacking).
Mini-CD/DV reader? Small compartment for dental floss or insulin?
CCD camera with OCR? Voice recognition? GAL/PAL/EEPROM
burner? Hardware compatibility with Victorinox SwAK's?
Does it resemble a Tri-Corder(TM)?


Let´s keep our feet on Earth, please... (Good typing! Good reading! No pun intended...)


ren - in answer to your question about my tongue in cheek perfect calculator comment; i'm easy. a 41 with a 3 line screen and 32k of memory would work nicely. and now one for you. do more than 3 of thoes actually exist?


The 41 is really THE one, but I would miss RPL, graphics and RS232, anyway... I would try a 48 with a built-in FULL-COMPATIBLE 41emu


... and a 42S form factor...


Dave, I'm unaware of any calculator having more than 3 of the attributes I mentioned, as my comment was tongue in cheek as well. I think you can see the direction I was pointing, as some of those are PDA attributes. I don't carry a dedicated calculator with me, but I found a nice scientific calculator program (freeware) for my 2.5 Y.O. Cassiopeia. No, it doesn't have the nice tactile feel one gets with an older HP calc, but I'm not an engineer, so my income is not based on a lot of calc I/O. I'm not trying to belittle that, as any professional needs good tools for their specialty. But you can see that with existing technology, we can go much further than where we now stand, once we start incorporating the right functionality. As many of the readers here are design engineers for their various professions, they may be able to point the future direction of calculators. e.g. "I want a programmable scientific calculator that is sturdy, has great key feel, and incorporates (insert various PDA functionalities here)"
But I do think the next generation of Calculator should have either a CompactFlash or SmartMedia socket (or both!) and maybe a USB port. And Wow! what if they put in an A/D converter? (temperature/voltage/audio inputs)


Would you mind commenting (perhaps in a different thread) about the calculator software you use on your PDA?

... given the many surveyors here (not me), please include GPS in your wish list ...


Andres, I found the scientific calculator freeware for my PDA at http://www.wincecity.com/ Click on the "Free Downloads" button if you have a Windoze CE PDA or else check out the other brands of PDA listed in the upper banner buttons. I found the calculator software under the "Utilities" section. Clicking on "Qcalc" took me to a German website where I downloaded the software. As the instructions were in German, I went to www.babelfish.com and had those translated to English (humorous translation in part). Not all the software listed at WinCEcity is free, some of it is shareware or buyware. Some software only works on certain versions of CE and only on certain processors such as ARM or MIPS, so be sure you know which you are downloading. I also downloaded Metric Conversion and TaskManager from TasCal through the site and found that software much better featured than the software my PDA came with.


ren; i agree with you 100% about pda's and future rpn's. someday someone will write a 42 emulator program for a pda and ill buy it that day and whatever it runs on. i sold my 42 when it dumped 6k of programs for no reason and i never regreted it. still, a pda 42 would be better (2 line screen, solver) and more likely than a pda 41. i would miss the hp "feel" but would trade it for practicly unlimited file size and safe memory. till then i'll use my cx. proudly.


Bravo Glynn!

Gene, Evangelize!

Please post your article and publisher here when you're ready.


During the all-too-brief "golden age" of the handheld electronic calculator, Hewlett-Packard chose to differentiate its products by functionality, yes, but above all by quality.

Their RPN interface virtually guaranteed a relatively limited acceptance. It is, however, the altogether elegant visual, tactile, and behavioral aspects of the various models' implementations that make these devices such rabidly sought-after possessions. H-P calculators looked, felt, and performed (indeed, the older models STILL look, feel and perform!) absolutely right and proper for their many purposes and applications.

Continuing an industry tradition of artistry and craftsmanship in the realization of engineers' hand tools, Hewlett-Packard applied extreme care and attention to detail (like that employed by others in the creation of fine slide rules and drafting instruments) to the design of their electronic calculators. It's not too much to say that they designed interactive works of art; and their art anticipated and survived the rigors of mass production.

Today, the economic utility of the general-purpose computer has simply made obsolete the many discrete, single-purpose hand tools of our engineering past. Handling a Hewlett-Packard calculator recalls a time when engineers were more physically a part of the act of engineering.

In passing an HP 48G to my son for his use in high school, somehow the words of Obi-Wan seemed appropriate: "An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age."


Well said!


No one wrote better words till now!

This is getting better and better.

Mr. Gene, your article is to be fed, now.


Well said! I remember at college 17-18 years ago when a new HP-41 (of course) was taken out for the first time and we inhaled its odour and said; Mmmmmmmm, the smell of a new HP, and we were so happy! :-)
I mean, boy, it had everything; build quality, great RPN system, alpha display, nice LCD, could be customized like nothing else, fun to use and it even smelled great!

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