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Vintage Electronics: Do handheld calculators matter? Our equations say "yes."

Posted by Tom Vernon on May 30, 2013 4:08:00 PM

TI-30-SAll of us at the Telos Alliance share with our customers a fatal attraction to broadcasting, as well as a passion for making great audio. But that's not all we do. From time to time, we'll profile members of the Telos Alliance and what they do when they're not inventing the next generation of broadcast audio gear.

These days, if you want to do some quick math, chances are you'll whip out your smartphone and punch some numbers into the calculator app. It wasn't always that easy. After the age of slide rules, the electronic calculator was an essential geek accessory. 1960s desktop devices were the size of a PC, but shrank in size and pocket models evolved as the de facto tool for mathematical calculations. The most sophisticated devices were programmable, and formed a bridge between basic electronic calculators and computers. As these devices pass from our collective memory and into landfills, Tony Thimet, Senior Software Engineer for the Telos Alliance (and one of the team responsible for the original Telos Zephyr), is cataloging, collecting and preserving the history of electronic calculators for future generations.

Thimet began his collecting in the summer of 2002. "My feeling is that the age of pocket calculators is coming to an end. They are being replaced by much more powerful PDAs (personal digital assistants), palmtop and laptop computers." To date, he has over 360 calculators and five slide rules in his collection. Since he lives in Germany, there are a number of machines in his collection that were distributed in the European market but were never offered for sale in the United States. He considers RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) superior to algebraic entry, thus many of the machines in his collection use RPN. Which is the ultimate? "That's a hard decision! The HP-67, HP-15C, HP-28S, HP-32SII and Casio PB-2000C are my top favorites. They are very powerful yet simple to operate. Scientific calculating may become a lot easier in the future, but I fear that we won't ever see anything like the HP-67 again!"

As Thimet's collection grew and he began to catalog his acquisitions, he created a web site and virtual calculator museum to share his work with other collectors. The site also contains links to other resources, pictures and descriptions of his collection, and places where vintage machines may be purchased. Grab a snack before you visit - there's a lot to see!

Topics: Vintage Electronics