What's the place of a handheld calculator?



#2

When calculators were first developed, they had unquestionable value. Simple scientific calculators had much higher precision than slide rules or tables, and they were easier to use. But in today's world of PCs, laptops, cell phones and PDAs, what do you think is the place of a calculator?

Personally, I think calculators have the following useful qualities:

  1. inexpensive
  2. instant on
  3. relatively long battery life
  4. relatively durable
  5. ease of use for what they do

I see two main uses for such an appliance. The first is education. Graphing calculators and symbolic solvers can help kids learn math concepts (although one can argue that they also make people lazy about applying the concepts too!). Basic scientific calculators are as useful in schools today as they were 30 years ago.

The other use is for special-purpose applications that are performed "in the field" where a PC or laptop may be cumbersome. A quick check of hpcalc.org will show lots of such applications. Just today I pondered using a calculator as an employee time clock.

I'm curious what others think is the place of our beloved calculators in today's world?

Dave


#3

I'd add to the list

- Ubiquitous

They are cheap enough to have one everywhere. On your desk at work or home, in the lab bench, in your toolbox, stuck on your fridge, in draws etc.

- Relatively consistent user experience

With some exceptions, most people can pick up ANY calculator and do basic math. The same can't be said of PC's or phones etc in which you have to *find* the calculator first and then struggle with whatever app they have.

I can't ever imagine not having a handheld calc on my desk at work or home, they are just so essentially convenient. I only use a phone or PC if a handheld calc is not readily available, and about the only place that happens is when I'm mobile.

As an electronics engineer my handheld calc is essential simply because it's hand held. I can put in on my schematic or catalog when I calculate stuff, I can take it into a meeting, I can swing around to my colleagues desk with it in hand, it's right on the lab bench when I need it etc etc. I don't have to look up at some PC screen on the adjacent desk and struggle for the mouse etc.
The PC isn't even close to that functionality, and phones are a pain, mine sits in the bag where it belongs when I'm at work or home.

As always, horses for courses.

Dave.

#4

They are still indispensable for engineers engaged in basic design calculations, field work and testing. I was a practicing engineer for nearly 40 years, and used my pocket calculator as much at the end as I did at the beginning, despite the availablility of computers and other gizmos. My last calculator (which the company issued to me) was an HP-32SII, which I found uniquely useful because of its ability to do fractional arithmetic, since many civil/mechanical general arrangement and layout drawings show dimensions as fractions. I could take my tape measure out to the shop floor, obtain some dimensions, and then combine them so the draftsman could make a drawing. I am not aware of any cell phones or PDA's that can do this. Also, I just like the feel of mechanical click buttons.

Michael

#5

Nostalgia is all it is these days. I've got about 10 around on my desk and use them for fun even though I can work without them (but I can't live without them :) )
Cheers


#6

Ditto!

-- Antonio


#7

In my shirt pocket, save for the 41 which was a huge clunk. Useful at the desk or in conference. The 65 and later saved your work so you could take it home. There was no computer option so it sufficed for all. It was there where you were when you needed it. My boss used my 35 to win a spirited negotiation with a large company throwing new numbers at him, he threw numbers right back. You get handy with it so it speeds your work. Sam


#8

For me, my shirt pocket. A minimum of a dozen times a day I take my calc out of my pocket to do some number crunching. Cannot imagine not having one available within hands reach, though I have four or 5 various HP's on my desks. Having always worked in a very dusty environment (farmer/rancher) I chose a clamshell RPN calc...the Aurora FN1000 (crummy key board and all). Knowing they were no longer manufactured I bought some extras. The pda's (have several TX's also) and cell phones have their place, but they will never replace a calc for me.


#9

Quote:
Having always worked in a very dusty environment (farmer/rancher) I chose a clamshell RPN calc...

I find is strangely comforting that someone working in a profession that pre-dates writing, numbers and even civilization itself finds a handheld calculator indispensible.
#10

Reth,

I think you hit it on the head. In my opinion, it is the main reason why this web site exists, why we attend HHC conferences each year, and so on. I think we associate something special with these machine--a special time in our lives where we had so much promise and potentials.

The truth is, the least powered laptop today can run circles around the vintage programmable calculators. I have several power PCs that can do things that I could only have dreamed of in the seventies and eighties!!!

Namir

Edited: 4 Mar 2009, 1:15 p.m.


#11

I disagree. PC's do not replace simple hand-held calculators (HHC), they complement them. I ported my Fortran engineering programs from mainframe computers to PC's when the latter developed the necessary capacity and speed, however, I still needed my HHC for many simple tasks and for its mobility. I also used it to check the results from canned engineering programs on my PC, because however sophisticated a program, it cannot think and is still vulnerable to the GIGO principle (garbage in garbage out). Performing calculations manually on a HHC forces you to think, whereas, PC computer programs do not.

Just my 2 cents,
Michael


#12

It is irrelevant that a laptop has loads more power. My 71 with its modules has loads more power than my 41cx and its modules, yet I seldom use my 71, and I use my 41 every day, sometimes even starting the day with it (as my 41 and 71 are my only alarm clocks). A laptop is not nearly as portable, and I don't have room for one on the workbench. There's also the matter of stability that is so lacking in laptops, cell phones, and other consumer equipment. Some of the programs I've used on my 41 have been in it continuously for 20+ years. I don't have to think about moving them over to a new platform every couple of years.


#13

I use my 48 and 49 calcs as alarms. I program my own "songs" that are in weird keys--going from consonance to dissonance.

Does the speaker get worn out?

#14

The question:

That is a good question and should elicit as many differing responses as there are members! I think this is the quandary HP finds itself in today.

Can you make money on a stand alone calculator. Of course, if you can corner the high school and university market with an “approved” calculator, that would be lucrative. But calculator for the masses, we have them, ranging from the generic to the high end graphing systems.

My use today:

I still use my HP41CX system in the cockpit. The current cockpit is a state of the art Boeing 777, yet the on board system still does not correct altimeters for temperature differences below -10C. On legs greater than 9 hours we have extra crew which relieve the acting pilots to allow rest periods. Rest periods have been automated by my HP 41CX and the infrared printer. These rest periods are not simply equal time periods but are tailored to flight length, passenger meal service (noisy) and pilot preferences. My 41 program adapts to all possible choices I have encountered.

What I would like to do:

Now I realize I can do this all on my HP 210 with a 41-emulator, which I have. I chose the 41-emulator as the programs do not have to translated for use. Problem with the emulator is you require a $200 to $400 hand held system to use it (HP210, iphone, etc.,). I am examining the possibility of converting the HP 20b into a dedicated, in house system that other pilots would desire (DUE TO THE LOW COST AND PILOTS BEING INHERENTLY CHEAP). The program set would be tailored to aircraft type, route structure and provide the suite of applications that the onboard system does not supply.

The suite of programs include:

1.	latitude/longitude keys for Great Circle/True Track
computation. This is not for flight planning but as an
independent check of the onboard navigation system. This
would eliminate gross navigational errors due to vendor
(data base supplier info) and input error (pilot). That
is, the old garbage in; garbage out

2. altimeter temperature corrections which would apply to
specific airport local altitudes used on approaches.
Strictly a northern or cold weather specific application.

3. altimeter error on days with barometric pressure greater
the 31.00mb

4. a break schedule program

5. a gmt time/day/date program

6. a data base for various static data; phone numbers, door
codes…..

Conclusion:

The calculator (20B) provides an excellent cost versus the multi function platforms. A dedicated keyboard with preformatted silk screened keys or overlay would make the operation an ease. Programming language be it simple RPN, RPL, Basic need not be required for the operator.

I think that is the direction that calculators appear to heading. Preformatted, dedicated systems used by specific industries.

Cheers, Geoff

Edited: 4 Mar 2009, 1:44 p.m.


#15

Quote:
The question:
I think [the original question] is the quandary HP finds itself in today.

I agree and I hope that HP is reading this thread. That's part of why I posted the question. If they can clearly define the purpose of an HHC then they can build better ones.

Quote:
I think that is the direction that calculators appear to heading. Preformatted, dedicated systems used by specific industries.

Yes, I think this is an important use for HHC's. Over the past few months I've made several posts in different forums advocating for keyboard overlays on a 50g successor. Without them, dedicated applications seem quite hard to me. And HP could make some money selling overpriced overlay templates. :)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts,
Dave

#16

What everyone said. Especially speed, though. Often I reach for a handheld for a quick calculation, or to confirm what I've worked out in my head, and to wait while a computer or pda sim initializes sort of takes the spontenaeity out of it. And the UI of a real calc can't be beat--I could never use a calculator with a mouse for long. Too slow! (The iPhone/iPod Touch HP emulators come close, but they still take time to initialize.) I use my HP35s when I work with fractions or solving simple equations like calculating the magnification of a telescope eyepiece given its f ratio, aperture and focal length--or any permutation of the above. Solving a RPN program is a real timesaver and is very simple on the HP-3X series calcs. I've been reading a lot of astrophysics books for fun lately and find the built in units in the HP-28s indispensable when working the problems, once I organized them into submenus like length, time, mass etc. a la the 48-50g series. I can do more on my 50g but it fails the all-important pocket test. Moreover, while I like the CAS available on newer models, I more often need a number as opposed to a symbolic solution. Let's just say I haven't needed to calculate with Groebner bases in quite a while.

#17

Working as an engineer (with questions concerning materials and structrural integrity) I use my calulator a lot. Doing simple calculations on a PC (or a PDA for that matter) is much slower than using a calculator. Of course, for heavy number crunching the handheld calculator cannot compete and you need a PC, but far from all calculations are like that. Looking around at my colleagues desks I see calculators on all of them so I certainly think they still have their use.
/Michael


#18

Quote:
Working as an engineer (with questions concerning materials and structrural integrity) I use my calulator a lot. Doing simple calculations on a PC (or a PDA for that matter) is much slower than using a calculator. Of course, for heavy number crunching the handheld calculator cannot compete and you need a PC, but far from all calculations are like that. Looking around at my colleagues desks I see calculators on all of them so I certainly think they still have their use.
/Michael

Indeed they do. The simplest tool will always win. For example, you don't see many people using those fancy interchangeable tip screwdrivers on a daily basis, as you just can't beat the simplicity of having a basic #1 Philips driver on hand when you want to take out just one screw.

Same with calculators. And looking at my colleagues desks, the simpler the tool wins there as well. And being curious over the years I've asked lots of people about the calculator they have on their desk, and the response is almost always the same - they just want something simple to do basic calculations. Most of them had a fancier programmable calculator in school/uni, but now most of them have switched to a basic scientific or even a 4-Banger because that's all they need 99% of the time. And why don't they just use their PC or phone? - because they are a PITA to use, about as far from simple and effective as you could imagine.

I've also found HHC's even more appropriate for non-technical people, as they just find their PC or phone too fiddly to use when all they want to do is add up their credit card bill.

Dave.


#19

Quote:
Indeed they do. The simplest tool will always win. For example, you don't see many people using those fancy interchangeable tip screwdrivers on a daily basis, as you just can't beat the simplicity of having a basic #1 Philips driver on hand when you want to take out just one screw.

Hello,

For some of us a Swiss Army knife with a Phillips screwdriver will do. It is not a one-size-fits-all thing, though, but it does the job.

It is the same thing with a calculator. Like paper and pencil and most tool, it is an extension of our brains, or so it seems to me.

This made me notice something.

Last week I had to check GPS data for a car trip. I used one of my HPs to do it, and left it in the car. It has been sitting there for about ten days now, and I am beginning to think of it as another tool to have aboard.

Geoff has told us about his 41 (and 67) and its applications onboard a sophisticated jet.

Dumb question: does anyone have an HP on his/her car?


#20

Quote:
Hello,

For some of us a Swiss Army knife with a Phillips screwdriver will do. It is not a one-size-fits-all thing, though, but it does the job.


Now this is an interesting example that again highlights my point that an optimised tool is often the preferred choice.

I *always* carry a SAK in my pocket, and it has a very nice philips screwdriver on it. Yet I will almost always go that little extra to reach into a draw and pull out a real screwdriver when I need to undo one screw - why? It's because the "user interface" on a real screwdriver is optimised for the job, it's just quicker and easier to use. I don't have to flip the SAK to the right side, then the right rotation, then open the blade, then twist it all around to get it into a comfortable position. The real screwdriver I just pickup and use.

The same goes for the ball-point pen on my SAK. Very useful when I don't have a proper pen with me, but I'll reach for a proper pen over the SAK any time. And I'll carry a proper pen with me when I go into a meeting for example.

There are countless other examples, like my new Nokia E71 phone for example. Great for surfing the web, email, GPS etc, but hopeless at just making a simple phone call. My old Nokia 6300 was MUCH better in that respect because it was a phone and not much more, and my older phone before that had even fewer features...

Dave.

#21

Juan J asked:

Quote:
Dumb question: does anyone have an HP on his/her car?

I keep my HP 28C in the car (the 28S is in my apartment) along with a flashlight and one of those thick Swiss Army Knives with dozens of features. I chose the 28C for auto duty because it's otherwise the least used and the conversions come in handy.

#22

For me, a hhc is used primarily for....SURPRISE...calulating and playing "what if" with numbers via a pgrm. I find it comforting to do it where I please; desk, easy chair or in " the field" something I cant do with a computer-The small size, the reassuring click of the keys and no noise. I think the pefect analogy would be reading a a real book vs an electronic box, no batteries,lighted screen, buttons to push etc. besides did you ever try to press a leaf with the electronic reader?!


#23

I was about to post something similar- I can take my Spice (when it was still fully functional), Pioneers, even my HP graphing calcs (whatever their line is called) to do a quick and dirty calculation, full-blown-thought-out calculation, program, even play a game...

... in bed, or in front of a ballgame on the couch.

I don't like the idea of that with a laptop, and heh, imagine a desktop PC sitting on the covers over your belly, with the monitor on top... and then you want to get out of bed for a glass of water.


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