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"The Calculator"

by Graaskamp Center Staff Friday, September 23, 2011
by Stephen Malpezzi, Professor and Lorin and Marjorie Tiefenthaler Distinguished Chair in Real Estate

In the midst of all the to-ing and fro-ing over Hewlett Packer's boardroom issues, it's nice that yesterday's FT contained a paean to the HP 12-C, on the iconic financial calculator's 30th anniversary. (Handheld device that remains a must-have, Financial Times, 9/22/11)

Sherlock Holmes used to refer to Irene Adler as simply "The Woman."

Readers of a certain age -- who cut their teeth, as I did, on their trusty K&E; slide rule, and punching cards in the middle of the night for a mainframe -- will understand why for thousands, the 12-C is still "The Calculator." It's a modest little gadget, roughly the size of a larger smartphone, but it gave us hand-held power and reliability that used to require signing up to a computer services bureau.

I'm an Excel freak now, and rarely turn my calculator on in anger. But for quite a while, anything important in Excel was also checked using my HP 12-C.

One morning a decade ago, I found that I had dropped my beloved 12-C under my equally beloved La-Z-Boy the previous evening; and some heavy rocking had put a deep curve in the case. To my astonishment, when I turned the deformed unit on, except for a switch to European notation (which wouldn't turn off), everything else continued to work. My trusty 12-C gave two more years of service, before the battery died and the twisted case made it impossible to change the battery.

With regret, I replaced it with a HP 17-BII. Why? Because many students couldn't follow my examples while using Reverse Polish Notation. (If you know what RPN is, you also know that to know RPN is to love it).

The 17-B can switch from RPN to "regular" algebraic logic, so I can help students one minute and go back to RPN the next.

But it's not the same. I'll bet HP's beleaguered stock gets a little pop this month from a few thousand of us giving into our nostalgia and buying another 12C.