Contributed Columns

The following article is a good reply to the guy who recently said that the HP48 is a silly toy and that we should really be using computers. *sigh* Cybersnobbery lives on.

The first person to popularize the use of the term "PPC" to stand for "Programmable Pocket Calculator" was Craig Pearce, an early member of the HP-65 User's Club. Although he refers below to "a PPC club from California", the club's name was not yet "PPC"; Craig is merely referring to the HP-65 User's Club as a club of users of programmable pocket calculators.

Enjoy this glimpse into The Way Things Were... 22 years ago!

-Joe Horn-

Craig Pearce (311), Berwyn, Illinois

"65 Notes," July 1976
Volume 3, Number 6, Page 2

It began innocently enough at the last meeting of CACHE, and the incident has left such a scar on me that I feel I must bring the entire thing out into the open. Of course, the whole thing should have been clear to me from the start, and would have been were it not for my naïve faith in human nature.

I was speaking with Ted Nelson, author of the book "Computer Lib and Dream Machines," about the coming age of a computer in every home. It is a good and exciting dream and Mr. Nelson's enthusiasm on bringing the µPs out of the closet and away from the 'cybercrud' types that can still be found veiling these computing devices in shrouds of mystery cannot be outdone.

Since my interests are many, I naturally brought up the subject of the programmable calculators. You'll never guess what Ted -- a computer for everyone -- Nelson did. He laughed! He flatly stated that if it couldn't do graphics on a CRT it wasn't a computer, and laughed. When he learned that some machines had the ability to store and play back programs on magnetic cards, he roared even more.

"Why bother...what for?" he added, equating that feature as being as ridiculous as a somewhat off-color joke in Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie."

Needless to say, I was stunned. Here is a man that wants to see the computer come out from the false complexities that surround it, and make that power available to everyone, and then makes a statement as he did.

Then, slowly, the pieces began to fall into place. I began to see an ever-clearing picture. It isn't just Mr. Nelson, it's nearly everyone. Didn't Bill Precht himself include the PPC in any survey only when reminded that they exist? Hadn't all attempts to stir interest in a calculator sub-group failed? It's all a clear case of Cybersnobbery.

Ah, you may say, but my machine is better. I can control several input and output ports; I can run things in my home; my memory is expandable; my speed quicker. And, granted, it's all true, and I would hardly be the one to want and say that the PPC is actually better than a SWTP 6800, or Altair, or Imsai, or what-have-you. After all, I own a µP too. The question is, is a µP better than a PPC?

I let you be the judge.

Over the past several meetings, I have seen and heard talk on several pieces of software. These include such interesting ones as diagnostics (to see if the damn machine is working), an 8080-Educator program that actually lets you see four whole registers as you input a limited number of commands, one at a time. Then there is a whole list of programs that can transfer data. Now that's really something!

"What can you do with your computer?" a friend asks.

"I can run a program that relocates itself in RAM," you proudly answer. Terrific! Or how about one that will fill a CRT screen with a character or some oddball pattern. Great way to spend an evening!

And what about all those 'things' that can be controlled around the house? Heating, air-conditioning, and the like. We've all got that programmed in, right? We don't? Takes too long to rewire the house, you say. Don't really want to trust your machine at running all times? I see.

Okay, so what I'm getting at is that while the µP has great promise, all the predictions haven't yet come to pass.

What can the PPC do, however? Probably nothing that you couldn't program your micro to do, of course. Certainly not in the number of steps, however. For example, with the HP-65, the user has 100 6-bit program steps at his disposal. How many can program their micro to multiply two 18-digit numbers and produce a 36-digit product in 100 bytes? How about Hexapawn, or a cybernetic Nimb game? If I were so inclined, I could pass a card through my 65 and load in a 100-step program to perform "Parallax Transformations in a Celestial Reference System." I can also balance my checkbook, perform trend line analysis, compute components for a Chebyshev filter, check male pulmonary functions, navigate a ship, fly a plane by one or two VORs, have a game of Hangman using an alphabetic overlay of the keys, or simulate a dime slot machine that duplicates all standard payoff combinations. And I can do all this at the time I need it. My machine fits into a pocket and operates from batteries.

An owner of an SR-52 has the ability to do binary searches; linked list; manipulation of subscripted variables and arrays; interrupt processing; dynamic code modification; op code translation; linked editing, loading and execution; overlays paging; and yes, Ted, even output graphics, via the attachable printer. The new HP-67/97 series opens up even more advanced programming techniques.

Speed? The programmable calculator is slow. Remember, however, that it runs in an interpretive mode. A loop that takes 15 minutes on a KIM 1 might take 30 days on a PPC. However, whatever reason for the loop, chances are the function is already available at the touch of a key on the PPC. Accuracy can't be beaten. The PPCs I'm familiar with have 10 digits of accuracy with a range of lXl0**-99 to 9.999999999X10**99 for both positive and negative numbers. That range actually exceeds the volume of the known universe in cubic microns!

Mr. Nelson predicts that over 10,000 people are going to attend the upcoming convention and that this will really get the public aware of computers. Well, just as a point of interest, many people I've talked to have become interested in this, the greatest of all hobbies through the PPCs. And there are 70,000 of us. I personally belong to a PPC club from California that has over 1250 members nationwide, with membership growing through word of mouth only. Face it, the PPC has always had more public exposure than the average micro.

Just who does a PPC owner think he is? He (or she) is a person that needs computing power, without the time to wait for time sharing; a person who needs this power at odd times and places that won't allow for some remote terminal. A PPC owner takes pride in accomplishing difficult computing tasks on a small, limited memory machine.

(Did anyone know that two HP-65s went along on the American/Russian Skylab mission and were used to back up and confirm the results obtained by the onboard computer?)

Maybe this whole thing has been stated pretty strong. And maybe it has to be. I'm not saying 'down with the micro-computer.' I'm saying 'down with cyber-snobbery.' Maybe the lowly PPC can't ever hope to do all the advanced functions of a genuine micro, and it really shouldn't. But to just laugh, and think that it will never play a role in personal computing is absurd. It already has!

Craig Pearce (311) Berwyn, IL

Part of the HP Calculator Archive -