Identifying HP-71B modules


Hi there

I have an HP-71B which came with three Modules (and a bar code reader). The modules are labelled 'DHSS CPL FS-1' and '01100-01 USA'. I (unwisely) popped off the cover from one of them and found several numbers - 5180 2917, B-2405. The chip on the back is labelled 5061 7134 85402 CC0.

Does anyone have any clues how I can identify them?

Many thanks



DHSS == Department of Health and Social Security.

This is/was a UK Government department who bought a lot of HP71s in the 1980s and ran them with special software in that ROM module. In the early 1990s, the machines were sold off very cheaply. They generally have an HPIL module, maybe the DHSS module, but no case or manuals.

The 71 and IL module are absolutely standard, BTW, no modifications.

I have no idea what the module actually does (I think I have one somewhere), but I don't think it's very useful.


The DHSS module turns the HP-71 into a terminal for a one-off file tracking database system that was used to track paperwork within several hundred DHSS offices from about 1985 to about 1992.

Every document had a barcode (type 2 of 5, I think) on it, and possible locations within each DHSS office were also coded. Moving a document required the user to scan the document barcodes, and the destination code, which updated the database. Users could also enter keywords, such as claimant name, on the HP-71 to search the database to find the location of the relevant document. I think a simple messaging system was also included, but I might be misremembering.

The database system was custom-written software on a PC running Concurrent CP/M (or maybe MP/M). The HP-71s were networked via HP-IL, and connected to the PC through an RS-232 interface. Because of technical restrictions, one HP-71 was designated as a master, and dedicated to handling the communication between the PC and the network. Up to 42 terminals per network were required to be supported, for reasons which later turned out to be related more to Douglas Adams than actual requirements; I think the maximum installation in any one office was about 30.

All the software was custom-written, and used a wholly custom communication protocol and database query language on the RS-232 link. Without the back-end database, RS-232 link, and separate HP-71s running both master and terminal ROM modules, the HP-71 side is basically useless.

How do I know all this? I was one of the developers of this system when I worked at Zengrange, which supplied the HP-71 software and all the barcode wands.

As a piece of trivia, this is the project for which Zengrange developed Zenwand; without the need to somehow have several thousand barcode wands for HP-71s, Zenwand wouldn't have happened. Once we decided to make a wand for the HP-71, we then figured out what additional functionality, beyond that strictly required for the DHSS system, would be useful to end users. Hence the barcode printing software, auto-discriminating barcode scanning, check-digit utility functions and other stuff that's in the wand.

And before you ask: no, I don't have any documentation or other information about the system beyond what I remember from 20 years ago.


The database system was custom-written software on a PC running Concurrent CP/M (or maybe MP/M).
I used Concurrent CP/M back in 1987 in another UK Government department: an excellent OS that was light years ahead of MS DOS 3.2/3.3 which was current at the time.

Somewhere there's a parallel universe where all is peace and light, war and poverty have been abolished and IBM chose CP/M instead of DOS.



The Budhha would say that MS-DOS is an illusion.


Some more stuff that staggered to mind, in case anyone's still reading...

The only things I remember about the Casepaper Location system database PCs are that they were various shades of brown, and had cheaply-made keyboards (for example, the contacts beneath each key mechanism were just tinned with solder, not plated). Neither Zengrange nor HP specified them; they were purchased from another company as part of a separate technical procurement which flew in parallel with the barcode terminal one. (This split procurement approach is also the reason for the RS-232 connection between the HP-IL side and the PC -- a lowest-common denominator technical connection to encourage the widest range of submissions on either side.)

And yes, the 'CPL' on the HP-71B module stands for 'Casepaper Location', casepapers being what the DHSS called the individual folders of information about claimants.

Buy me a beer offline, and I might be persuaded to reveal how come Zengrange ended up having to make barcode wands for an HP product, when HP were perfectly capable of it themselves. (Not particularly salacious, just an excuse for someone to buy me a beer.)

Somewhere there's a parallel universe where all is peace and light, war and poverty have been abolished and IBM chose CP/M instead of DOS.

Somewhere else, there is a perpendicular universe where C and Unix didn't get invented, HP decided to release Wozniak's Apple I design as the HP-9400 for only $8,250.00, and I'm currently typing this into Compuserve over a super-fast 1200 baud connection from my illicitly hacked Microsoft TV-Pong system.

So things aren't all that bad, perhaps. :-)

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