Some kind thoughts about HP's new direction



#45

I've been watching the recently released HHC 2006 DVDs, and they've really reassured and excited me. I've never been to an HHC event, but I'm very much looking forward to going to HHC 2007 next month.

Listening to Cyrille de Brebisson and Sam Kim on the HHC 2006 video has made it clear to me that they're very passionate about bringing quality, reliability and good design back to HP calculators. They really listen to the community that uses them. It's also reassured me that there's more good stuff to come -- we've already seen a few accidently leaked pictures of the new HP 17bII+ design, and I suspect we'll see other changes that bring more of the calculators into line with what we've seen on the 35s. Pure speculation on my part, but I think very well reasoned speculation.

The response to the 35s has been overwhelmingly positive. You can't please everyone, so there are bound to be some people who don't like it, but I'll agree with what seems like the majority sentiment that this is the best handheld calculator HP has sold in almost a decade. I love my 35s, it's an excellent RPN calculator in the 32s lineage, and I'm happy as a clam to have my wide "Enter" key back. THANK YOU HP!


#46

Hear! Hear!

#47

I agree with you that "this is the best handheld calculator HP has sold in almost a decade." However, I still don't think it is good enough yet.


#48

Step 1 would seem to me to be a >4 line stack to make those of us who learned RPL first happier.

Would that actually hurt RPN users in some way?!?


#49

Nah. It would eat up more physical system resources and might get underutilized by those of us who are used to the good ol' four stack system. ;D

#50

How about a settable fixed stack size? You may set it to 4 levels minimum ("compatibility mode" for all the good old programs) and to n levels maximum. I proposed n = 16 in an earlier post here I'm too lazy to excavate now (maybe KS would do).


#51

That would be the way to go if the stack were expanded. I personally wouldn't want more than 4 levels plus LASTX, but more would be OK as long as it could be limited to 4 by the user, and the "T" level copying worked the same as on the "real" 4-level machines.

#52

I can't think of a good reason for a scientific calculator without matrix or parallel list processing features to have n>>4 level stack or VLS (very large stack).

The vast majority of USER and SYS RPL stack commands only manipulate the bottom 6 regs for a reason: If the calculator has enough system resources to support VLS, it is easier to dump intermediate results into a different data structure (list, matrix, array, vector....) or store them in a variable (direct or indirect).

Also, once the stack depth exceeds 6 or so, the top is no longer DIRECTLY accessible. Only indirect use via the ROLL or PICK command will allow the top to be used in calculation. As a result, VLS data structures are in essence indirect registers with access control.


#53

Hi, Allen,

I think I have to clarify a bit.

Quote:
I can't think of a good reason for a scientific calculator without matrix or parallel list processing features to have n>>4 level stack or VLS (very large stack).

IIRC "n>>4" means n being at least 40. IMHO this would be a VLS already. This was not proposed.

To allow you to tackle every strange equation you meet without the need for storage of intermediate results, n = 4 falls short. N = 6 may be sufficient. Let's add 2 levels for safety (remember Minneapolis), so n = 8 may be a good maximum if each stack level may contain any kind of object (incl. matrices). This size is still easy to control. N = 16 might be too much, agreed, but e.g. MathUPro works with that number.

Edited: 5 Aug 2007, 4:13 a.m.


#54

I wouldn't care about a VLS. 6 or 8 would be all I'd care about. The reason is that I got into the habit of punching equations through left to right using RPL. I use quite a few equations that require 5-6 registers to do that.

Over the last few days, I've started re-training myself to start inside and work my way out.


#55

The same here. I started my HP "career" rather late as a fresh men back in 1990 with a RPL 28s. I had never to think about the limitations of a four level stack. Today, using a 33s for my daily tasks, I still have to remember myself of the rule "work from inside to the outside". But I get used. Anyway, a 6-8 level stack would be very nice.


#56

LOL, I'd say that there are quite a few of us out there.

For what it's worth, I'm trying to learn to do things in true RPN now. I have a specific benchmark equation that I use to judge my speed. Today, I punched it through in 30-32 sec. with my 50g from inside out. Also 30-32 sec. with my 33s. The best I could do left to right with my 50g was 38 sec. I'm now convinced that I should go inside->outside, so the stack size isn't an issue any longer.

I'm almost sure I've done it in 27 sec. with my 48 because the keys are so much nicer. I let a TI-using friend borrow it for a couple of weeks in a conversion attempt, so I can't verify that number.

#57

I think four level stack force user to be more concise with code (equations). This hard for some new programmers in the real world because memory is cheap. I know I play with 35s this weekend trying to write a few programs based on two theory. One, use as many like as I need. Two, limit it to four level stack use. The second theory, much harder as you really have to think, but you make much more efficient code in my opinion.

I think unlimited stack is very good thing, but it allow you to be lazy and build out larger program which not necessarily a good thing. I see in my work, many younger programmer out of university who write bloated programs that could be more efficient. Unfortunately at university they do not teach them how to write compact code. That is a shame.


#58

Shall the calculator be part of the problem or part of the solution? For a dedicated educational calc, one may limit the features artificially to force people to use a certain stile of problem solving. But for a professional tool, I'd prefer not to be educated. Just my personal opinion.

#59

I think the main issue with larger stacks is access to all the new stack levels. With four levels, none of the stack registers are more than 2 keypresses away. More than four, and you "need" all those RPL stack manipulation commands that nobody can remember.


#60

Quote:
More than four, and you "need" all those RPL stack manipulation commands that nobody can remember.

Can you remember just DEPTH, ROLL, PICK, and DROPN? Those are all that are really needed in RPL. The rest of the UserRPL stack commands are useful, but with some extra keystrokes or programming, these four can do everything that the others can.

Regards,
James

Edited: 7 Aug 2007, 6:43 a.m.

#61

Hi, Walter --

Quote:
How about a settable fixed stack size? You may set it to 4 levels minimum ("compatibility mode" for all the good old programs) and to n levels maximum. I proposed n = 16 in an earlier post here I'm too lazy to excavate now (maybe KS would do).

I fully agree that a settable fixed stack size would be the way to go. x< >y, R_dn, and R_up would work exactly the same. The minimum and default stack size should be 4, for compatibiliy and usability. The maximum could also be 9 or 19 for a natural setting operation; e.g., "STKD 9" or "STKD .9". Hexadecimal (e.g., E for 15) would be a bit counterintuitive.

As for "excavating", I don't do that on a routine basis. Once in a while, I plow through the Archives for informative or detailed posts, in particular my own where I wrote a "short essay" or provided an explanation for an analyzed problem. I then make bookmarks for those posts, which tend to offer suitable responses for topics that come up repeatedly.

-- KS

#62

Sam Kim seemed very credible to me at HHC 2006. He has the old-line HP calculator nut credentials for one thing. And he just seems like an honest guy for another. Time has shown me that my judgment of him was correct - everything he said HP would do, HP has done with the 35S.

In that vein, I suggest that Sam's statements on the DVD that accompanies the 35S bear careful scrutiny. There, he promises that future HP calculators will all embody the things that users love about HP calculators. He gives the solid build quality and keyboard tactile feedback as examples. But he also says that HP will lead with new technology, and that their aim is to make calculators easier to use. I might have misgivings about that, but combined with the first statement, I think that means that the geeky old interfaces, such as RPN and RPL, will still be there. But so too will be some form of GUI or other interface abstraction on top.

All-in-all, I think we are in for some interesting times.

Regards,
Howard


#63

GUI on a calculator?? What would that accomplish?


#64

I have two answers to that. First, why does the 48/49/50 series need a GUI? Second, check out the nSpire.

I'm not saying that's ideal. And I did say "GUI or other interface abstraction." But my hope would be that HP, operating with an awareness of its traditions, would come up with something that would be genuinely useful. What exactly that might be, I can't say.

Regards
Howard

Edited for speling errurs.


Edited: 5 Aug 2007, 12:53 a.m.

#65

GUI on a calculator...

Take the TI89 Titanium and the TI Voyager. They are basically the same thing apart from the Voyager having a QWERTY keyboard and larger display.

So I'd be interested in your opinions on when does a calculator stop being a calculator and start becoming a handheld computer?

And is the distinction very important?

#66

I think at least three things distinguish a calculator from a hand held computer.

  1. Mathematical functions are primary on a calculator.
  2. A calculator keyboard is designed for calculation first, rather than text first.
  3. A calculator is designed to have long battery life.

I suppose that there are other differences that wouldn't fit into those categories. But I do think those are the main points. Items like the display differences come under the heading of low power consumption.


The distinctions could get blurry as technology advances. If battery technology improves significantly, we could see machines that were obviously calculators sporting displays like today's hand held computers. The keyboard issue can be dealt with creatively. The Hydrix project did that. And the new nSpire features a snap on keyboard in the low end model. You could go farther down those lines and provide a device that could be configured as a calculator or a computer. And the mathematical focus is really a software issue. Given flexible hardware, you could make the software just as flexible and appropriate for the current configuration.

Oh, yeah, calculators tend to be cheaper too. 8)

Regards,
Howard


#67

I have another distinction:

My calculators are permanent (assuming they don't break). I'm sure I won't be typing on this notebook computer in 3 years.

#68

Quote:
"this is the best handheld calculator HP has sold in almost a decade."
I fully agree. Since the release of the HP48 series HP has only produced rubbish. That's the reason why the HP48 was my last HP scientific calculator. Now with the 35s HP is back again. I have only two complaints about this great calculator:

- Plastic quality. Below HP48's plastic case

- S/N not engraved (misaligned sticker)

Anyway, a step in the good direction.


#69

Rubbish as far as physical quality goes, no argument there. That is unfortunately due to the realities of modern outsourced manufacturing. But let's not forget what they've managed to do with practically no staff. The were able to save the 48 line by creating the Saturn emulator running on modern hardware. And they saved the 32 line by porting it to modern hardware on the 33S. Those are pretty big accomplishments. Sure they had problems along the way and lost a lot of loyal customers. But at least now they seem to be listening to their users again, instead of moronic focus groups which likely resulted in the 33S styling, among other things. The current state of HP calculators is excellent again, finally.


#70

Quote:
That is unfortunately due to the realities of modern outsourced manufacturing.

This is due to the HP management decision to shut down the Corvalis group. Unbelievable how much expert knowledge of excellent calculator design vanished this way. Ok, maybe the calculator business wasn´t that good at that time. But TI proofed it is possible to survive even bad times by being innovative and discovering the eduacational market for consistent sales volumes.

I use a 33s and never really understood how purple or turquoise letters against a silver bakground could be a selling argument. It is simply a crime against good enginnering practise.

Anyhow, the turnaround seems to be there and I hope for consistent better calculators.


#71

Btw, in other forum threads everybody is talking about blister packaging. The HP35s comes in a good box, at least the edition for Spain and Portugal (and quite heavy due to the two user's guides, in Spanish and Portuguese). The calculator was inside a plastic bag. I hope that the 'American edition' that I have bought at Samson Cables also comes boxed.


#72

Quote:
Btw, in other forum threads everybody is talking about blister packaging. The HP35s comes in a good box, at least the edition for Spain and Portugal (and quite heavy due to the two user's guides, in Spanish and Portuguese). The calculator was inside a plastic bag. I hope that the 'American edition' that I have bought at Samson Cables also comes boxed.

FWIW, my Samson Cables came to the UK via Spain and was in a blister pack of the toughest plastic I've ever encountered.

#73

Yes, unfortunately the American version comes encased in what can only be described as a brick of solid adamantium, impenetrable without the aid of a high-power laser cutting system or CNC milling machine. If you do attempt to open it with anything as mundane as a pair of household scissors, it deflects the attack and instigates countermeasures, defending itself with razor-sharp plastic shards designed to penetrate human skin like a hot knife through butter.


#74

Sounds like the experience I had opening my 50g last Christmas. 8/

#75

Aside from Seth's very accurate, and very funny :-), depiction of how tough the 35s plastic blister is (and yes, I DID get stabbed by a shard of that stuff; it HURTS!), there's one very big reason for the blister packaging: visibility.

Shoppers nowdays are used to seeing a product, and they won't even think twice about walking by a nicely closed box with a picture on it. The days of the old HP "christmas present" boxes are gone. It just wouldn't sell. They need to put the calculator on display, and the blister packs do that very very well.

thanks,
bruce

Edited: 7 Aug 2007, 2:03 p.m.


#76

Bruce, when I bought my HP-34C as a kid, the office electronic supply store (do such things still exist??) had one unit of every model they carried on display, with descriptions, etc., though the descriptions would have been enough for me. Any design beauty would be an extra goodie.

But I really wanted to concur about today's blister packaging. Yes, it may be very effective at thwarting many of our thieving Americans, but I too have been stabbed or cut by that very stiff material. There are those saw-like "cut-everything" scissors that'll safely cut that blister packaging material, more easily than a pair of normal scissors.

I miss my old 34C box; it fell apart many years later and my mother tossed it (along with my treasure horde of old comic books and baseball cards that would now have made me a multibillionaire... and my even more treasured cache of Science Times articles on the space shuttle). Now I have to protect my 32SII box (a much flimisier thing) from my wife! But the subsequent calculators came in blister packs and they, of course, get thrown out or recycled, depending on the material with which it was made.


#77

Quote:
along with my treasure horde of old comic books and baseball cards that would now have made me a multibillionaire

Your mother threw those away, too!?!?! Mine disappeared when I went to graduate school on the other side of the country. I had the whole 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers, along with Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, etc.

If all of our moms had kept this stuff, there would be a glut on the market, and we'd still not be gazillionares!


#78

You've destroyed my fantasies...

... just kidding! ;)

#79

My wife's dad threw away her Barbie collection after she went to college. She came back and found them all gone. As a collector for years, she estimates that the value (today) of those Barbie dolls at about $30,000. Ugh. She can barely talk about it today. ;-)

The only good thing that came from that is that *I* am not going to throw away any of my kids stuff unless I check with them first! ;-)

thanks,
bruce

#80

Since the blister packaging, presumably, is to thwart dishonesty in the retail stores, but the 35s is (at least, currently) not being sold in retail stores, why the blister? I guess we can expect to see it on Walmart shelves eventually. But even the 33s never made it to the shelves of Office Depot or Staples, AFAIK.

#81

Quote:
This is due to the HP management decision to shut down the Corvalis group. Unbelievable how much expert knowledge of excellent calculator design vanished this way.

For those who weren't there....in 1993 around the time HP48GX was being released, the Corvallis division was at a fork in the road with that facility producing both laptops (Omnibooks, if I remember correctly) and handhelds (both calculators and the LX palmtops). We were told at the time that senior management felt Corvallis should concentrate on just one of those two - and they chose laptops. As a result, handhelds went to Singapore, where they worked seemingly 99% of the time on palmtops and 1% on calculators. At the 1995 and 1996 conferences in Minneapolis and Anaheim respectively, the Singapore head of handhelds, Kheng Joo Khaw, basically indicated that palmtops were "where it's at" and calculators did not need to be emphasized at that time. We calulator supporters disagreed, of course. The only new unit of any significance was the release of the algebraic hp38G in '95. We also saw the DOS-based palmtops end with the 200LX and the beginning of the 300LX-and-onward Windows CE machines. It was a strange time.

We thought HP calcs were done until in 1997, the Australian ACO group was formed with Chris Wallin speaking at the HPCC British conference and promising us that things would return to a strong position again. Their early products (48G+, hp6S and 6S Solar, hp10BII in the new case and hp30S) were underwhelming, with the 6S and 30S representing the first time hp put their name on machines which they essentially did not design. Finally, new development seemed to resurface with the hp49G in 1999. Although the case colors, keyboard and key arrangement were strange, the functionality was a nice step forward from the 48 series. I firmly believe that if the developers of the HP48 Metakernel software had not done their thing in 1997, the hp49G, 49G+ & 50G would not have been built, calcs would have faded into oblivion and the current San Diego group would not have formed to ultimately attempt a 35S and any return to HP's "roots". So, many thanks to Cyrille, Jean-Yves, Gerald and the gang :-)

Jake Schwartz


#82

Hi Jake,

Quote:
So, many thanks to Cyrille, Jean-Yves, Gerald and the gang :-)

Thanks, even from my side. I guess it must be very hard to design a nice piece like the 35s seems to be (I don´t have one - not yet)
It´s even harder if a project leader has to supervise a big part of his team from the opposite side of the pacific.

My main concerns with the recent HP-calcs are still the mechanical quality HP used to stand for. Good haptics is something important to me. There are things I daily use without paying great attention to them. Like my coffee machine or my razor.

But it happens even after years of use that I hold up in my work when using my old style 28s and think to myself for a second or two "nice craftsmanship, fun to look at and fun to use - always precise, always reliable"

It is this alround-package "unobtrusive design, excellent mechanic, software and 100%-reliability" which I still do miss.


But in the end I do understand that the golden calculator age is gone. Today there are simply to many alternative tools around. Palms, Pocket PCs, laptops ..... Hard to justify big investments for "only" an non graphing straight-forward RPN machine. From this perspective the 35s is really impressive.

But the greatest thing I respect HP for is to stick with RPN.
Otherwise us guys needed to get used to AOS. Of course only those who are still more than 30 years away from retirement. Since that seems to be the "at least" lifespan of an HP calculator made in 1972.


#83

Isn't your 28S algebraic? Do you prefer it over a RPN calculator?


#84

I used my 28s as RPN only. Can´t cope with AOS. But lets face reality. The vast majority of people using calculators don´t even know about RPN. So thats why I think it is so positive seeing HP still making calculators with an RPN-option at least.

Today my 28s is almost retired and I use it only sometimes at home. At work a 33s became my new work horse. Not perfect, but usable.

#85

The 28C and 28S are UserRPL models. Like the 48 and 49 series, "algebraic objects" can be used, but the user interface and operating system are basically a variety of RPN. Unlike the 49 series, the 28 and 48 series do not have an ALG mode.

Internally, algebraic objects are composite objects with an RPN sequence, much like a program, but with a different prologue, additional syntax rules, and entered and displayed in algebraic syntax.

For example, where \v/ represents the square root symbol, the algebraic object:

'R=\v/(3^2+4^2+12^2)'
is compiled to a composite with (internally) the RPN sequence:
'R' 3 2 ^ 4 2 ^ + 12 2 ^ + \v/ =

Regards,
James

Edited: 8 Aug 2007, 4:07 p.m.

#86

Quote:
Rubbish as far as physical quality goes, no argument there.

Yes, this is actually a good point. I was very fond of my 33s as well, in all respects EXCEPT the keyboard and housing design. But the software was actually a very nice continuation of the 32s line. If only it hadn't had that insane chevron keyboard!

I think what they're doing with such a small team (i.e., Cyrille) is really very amazing. Yes, I do regret that they disbanded the Corvallis team, and I do wish the build quality were better, but given the realities of the market, I'm really quite pleased with how things are going.

Edited: 5 Aug 2007, 5:28 p.m.


#87

At work here we do make nice box of the same quality or better than those that came with the original 35. However, about the only customer that buy our boxes for their product are cosmetic manufacturer. Com'on HP give us some business.

#88

Quote:
we've already seen a few accidently leaked pictures of the new HP 17bII+ design

Does someone have a picture of this. I would like to see.

Also, does anyone from HP frequent this group? I sure they read, as they have David on DVD that come with 35s, but just curious if anyone from HP chime in here.


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