HP - The calculator of choice of scientists and engineers


I remember having read the subject title in an advertisement folder from HP. Most of us here believe this is true concerning engineers, but what about scientists?

Experimental physicist Richard A. Muller, author of the Nemesis Theory http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/solarsystem/nemesis_010320-1.html, wrote in his book Nemesis:

The major diameter of an elliptical orbit is the period of the orbit, in this case 26 million years, raised to the 2/3 power, and multiplied by 2. My Hewlett-Packard 11C pocket calculator quickly yielded the answer: 176,000 astronomical units,...

(The World Treasury of Physics, Astronomy and Mathematics - Edited by Timothy Ferris, ISBN 0-316-28129-8, pg 267)

Of course this single ocurrence does not prove HP is the calculator of choice of scientists, but has anyone seen other calculators being mentioned in a scientific work?


The 11C ... no doubt about that!


I'd say that the HP line was THE CHOICE of scientists, too.

I am a radio astronomer, my wife is an optical astronomer, both with our PhDs from the early 70s, and we have a dozen or so HPs between us, both historic (I have an early '35, bought as soon as I could afford it) and recent (between us, we have at least 3 32S's, she has 2 and I have one and I have also a '42S and a 48GX). We also both have 11C's that we purchased separately (before we were married). An HP 41CX was a birthday present from my wife some years ago. She knew how important it was!

Whaen I went to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in 1975 as a staff scientist, they had 20 or 30 HP 35s - one for EVERY staff scientist in his/her office. These were clearly the calculator of choice for scientists in the mid to late 70's.


And the choices for business managers are the 12c and the 17bii! Greetings,


Sorry, I was just quoting an HP advertisement. But we suspect this is true, given the huge number of 12C sold!




These early devices had a personality of their own which modern computers lack. It is unlikely today that someone would write in a scientific article "my notebook brand X quickly yielded the result..."

I can realize what the HP-35 meant back then because as late as '78 we still used table of logarithms at high-school. It wasn't until '81 when I bought my first calculator, a non-programmable scientific model from Sharp. Maybe because of that I recently purchased a very good 35, even the silver trim, where they wear most, is perfect,

Congratulations for your careers in Astronomy. I am not a scientist but I like to read about science, Astronomy being one of my favorite topics.

Back to the topic, I believe you are right when you say the HP line WAS the choice of scientists. We have to admit calculators will never have the same importance they had in those years, when they were the only portable computing resource available.

Edited: 3 July 2005, 2:08 p.m.


These early devices had a personality of their own which modern computers lack. It is unlikely today that someone would write in a scientific article "my notebook brand X quickly yielded the result..."

Aah, but that's because PCs are standardized devices; it's the software that makes the difference there. For example, "Scilab 3.0 quickly yielded the result..." -- nobody cares that I ran said software on a Compaq Armada 7790DMT, for some reason, even though it really is a nice machine. :-)

- Thomas

Edited: 4 July 2005, 11:33 a.m.


Good point!

(This was intended to be the new subject line, but it appears we cannot post blank postings anymore.)


On page 10 of the the 6/23/05 issue of Electronic Design magazine, one of the electronics industry magazines, they have the results of a poll. The question was, "What is your preferred tool for engineering calculations?" The top 3 answers were as follows. 21% of those responding said it was specialized math software. 26% said a spreadsheet. 36% said it was their old HP RPN calculator.


Well, I'm an active scientist and, as far as I know, there are only two HP calcs in my whole Institute (90 researchers): mine (48G) and my wife's (33s)

The rest are mainly... Casios!


What if I had been asked to do this calculation back in 1946? I would have pulled out my slide rule, set the cursor at 26 in the middle section of the K scale, moved the index of the B scale under the cursor, moved the cursor to 2 on the B scale and read 1755 on the A scale. Then I had to select the position of the decimal point. I wouldn't have felt compelled to tell the reader that the calculation had been done on a K&E N4058W Beginner's Slide Rule.


My Archimedes Darmstadt LOG-LOG yielded the result 1755 too, but not so quickly (I followed the same steps you made). My guess is you would feel even less compelled to tell anyone if the calculation was made with help of a table of logarithms or by means of squaring, extracting a cube root and multiplying by 2.

What I intend to point out it the fact that, for the first time in computing history, scientists, engineers, (ok, financial managers too), had a tool they loved so much they'd eve mention it on their works.

(O.T.: Congratulations for your work with the TI-58. Back in 1982 I had one of them. Too bad it was stolen before I could explore it a little more).



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