During this week end I will put on sale a couple of wonderful, fully restored HP 97. Tomorrow I will be able to take some pictures in daylight, and probably will use some to illustrate this blog issue. But now I wanted to talk about old HP user manuals.
I am now referring to the one of the HP 97. The impression of quality it oozes brings me back to my youth, when I was reading these manuals in awe. At that time, I was at the Spanish school equivalent of year 7, and many of the examples used were as new for me as the calculator itself. I saw the pictures, like this one: a hp97 being used on the table of a business aircraft. (Apparently, what can be seen below the calculator is a flight chart, but more expert people in our hobby with flight experience may give more information about it). It really managed to make the calculator desirable.
When you look at today's calculators, from the blister packaging to the small user manuals (always making reference to the “big” user manual in the CD), you see commoditization at work. And you cannot escape thinking that in some respects, past was better.
(I cannot avoid remembering a discussion in a calculator related forum, where an old timer was speaking fondly about his experiences with slide rules. At that time, someone said “I wonder how could you do any useful thing with that technology, where the old man replied “well, with this technology we managed to go to the moon. Where have you gone with yours?”)
Back to the manuals. 295 pages with 4 different colors; detailed explanations for all operations from the very beginning, with key drawings instead of the ugly boxes seen in modern HP manuals (and rom other brands too).
The calculator came as well with the Standard Pac, with 15 different programs pre-recorded in magnetic tape. You wonder now if anything of real use could be done with just 228 programming steps (as opposed to many megabytes any small program has now. My iPad has some games that occupy close to 2 Gigabytes - we’re talking seven orders of magnitude factor!). Well - there were some very useful things at could be done with that small memory.
As the machine did not have permanent memory, you had to use a lot the supplied magnetic cards. All programs should be stored there, lest you want to key them in all time, or keep the machine running the whole day!
The manual starts with a detailed quick guide to all important functions, and then follows with several examples to show you how simple to operate the device is; and then it comes into part one: “Using your HP 97 calculator”. It comes then showing all topics in great detail. The clarity is awesome; even more so than that of the HP-41. (To date, the best manuals I have ever seen corresponds to the HP 85). There are problems at the end of each chapter. I remember seeing these when I was a child, and trying to solve some. Fortunately, they were easy - probably this led me the engineering way.
I do not have the original magnetic cards corresponding to the standard pac (or to any other, for that matter…), but in the Standard Pac manual all programs are listed, and I just have to write them in brand new magnetic cards. It’s only that they will never be as sexy as the original dark green were.
Despite the fact that many of us think that the HP41c was the peak of the old HP, it is clear for me that, in manuals, the peak had been reached several years ago.
I wanted just to quote the two sentences written at the beginning of the manual:
“The success and prosperity of our company will be assured only if we offer our customers superior products that fill real needs and provide lasting value, and that are supported by a wide variety of useful services, both before and after sale” (Statement of Corporate Objectives - Hewlett-Packard)
“Since we introduced our first scientific calculator in 1967, we’ve sold over a million worldwide, both pocket and desktop models. Their owners include Nobel laureates, astronauts, mountain climbers, businessmen, doctors, students and housewives.
Each of our calculators is precision crafted and designed to solve the problems its owner can expect to encounter through a working lifetime.
HP Calculators fill real needs. And they provide lasting value”
Humbling, isn’t it?