I Remember HP

I had an HP calculator, a 25C, in the 70s. I programmed the living crap out of that thing; 49 program steps, 9 or 10 memory locations, and a four level stack, and wrote programs that used every single bit of that memory.

My dad had a series of HP calculators, notably an HP-65 with a card reader. I kept bugging him to bring it home so I could hack on it all evening, at our kitchen table.

Our high school had a great HP computer and plotter (I didn’t get to use it much, but it was cool).

Once upon a time I lived near the HP plant in Loveland. I was in 10th or 11th grade. I remember riding my bicycle five miles to the plant, announcing myself as a computer hacker and could I have a job? The receptionist was less than impressed. I did get to talk to one of their engineers, and he was bemused and maybe a little impressed, but they couldn’t hire a high schooler even if he had built a computer over the winter. Later I went to an open house and spent hours mucking with the test equipment they had set up and asking questions about their chip processing plant.

I used an HP 6502 emulator at Atari to help debug video games. I used HP analyzers at Apple to find out WTF was going on inside the Newton, when I couldn’t use a debugger. I used HP analyzers to grok some gnarly 68000 timings.

I know how to program a 41C in its native machine code. I’ve read the specs on the CPUs in the calculators. I learned what CORDIC was because that’s what made the original HP 35 tick.

I have an HP 41C, two HP 48s, a 32S, two 16Cs, and probably one or two more that are hiding in boxes. (I wish I still had the 25C, and I covet my dad’s 65). I have an HP x86 laptop in the garage (my dad gave it to me a few years ago. It runs DOS and weighs about ten pounds and almost certainly still works though it’s 20 years old).

It was nice to know HP, when it was a company that mattered.

HP as a company is dead to me; they have no products that I am interested in. Any magic that was there fled years ago, and the recent mismanagement is just the natural process that a nearly dead company goes through on the way to termination. I feel sorry for the people who are working there. I wish that HP made something cool, but they don’t any more, and that will be the end of them.

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14 Responses to I Remember HP

  1. Noons says:

    In the mid-80s, a hi-tech supermicro company called Prime Computers went through this same madness.
    An “expert” CFO came in highly recommended and proceeded to destroy and disband all of R&D.
    “Too expensive: we have to focus on the business, not technology” was the justification.

    This utter moron basically killed the company (a high tech company without R&D????) and those of us with half a brain got out as fast as we could. A few years later it was gone.

    We saw what Fiorina did to HP: basically, she killed off R&D and fired anyone with a techo background or orientation. That killed HP right there and then. Now, all we are seeing is a bunch of nitwits disguised as “great poobahs” destroying what’s left at a fast rate and converting it into more cash for their portfolios at the fastest clip they can manage.

    Ah well, those who refuse to learn from history are indeed condemned to forever repeat it.

    What would be nice? If shareholders got together and sued the heck out of Fiorina, Hurd and Apotheker and now whomever else is there. Big time. That might for once put the fear on these bastards who do nothing else than gut off large companies. Tar and feathers are badly needed!

    Meanwhile, my HP16C continues to give good services!

  2. Wholly Mindless says:

    You’re preaching to the choir. There was a time when “different” *WAS* the business. When everything you make – I mean buy from contract manufacturers – is exactly what everyone else makes there’s no reason to buy your product over anyone else. Seems like obvious business to me. This is the ONLY reason Apple is still in business and why people didn’t want to see their CEO leave.

  3. Garth says:

    My dad was an actuary using HP calculators … still has his 12C when he retired.
    Got me involved in computers when he brought home a HP 85B over the school vacation to keep me occupied.

    My graduation present from high school was a 41CV with card reader module and expansion rom.

    Alas the HP I admired and grew up with was long gone.

  4. $mike cremer says:

    You are likely correct, by many people thought the same thing about Apple ca. 1997.

  5. Marcin says:

    No special sentiment for HP, however it’s sad to see another technology giant moving towards so called “business”.

    Unfortunately this is pretty common I think. I’ve been working for another ‘big player’ and observe how the technology does not really matter…

    Sign of the times. Welcome to the enterprise and consumer world.

  6. Ian Farquhar says:

    The real HP still lives on: it’s now called Agilent.

    What is now called HP has Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard turning in their graves in shame. And let’s not forget Tandem and DEC, which were great companies swallowed by HP.

    It’s just another victim of the cult of MBA. Silicon Graphics is another. Sun Microsystems is a third. Great companies killed by incredible mismanagement and ineptitude.

  7. Miguel Farah says:

    I think I still have an HP 25C around. Last time I checked, the battery was dead but the calculator itself should have been in working condition if it had a good battery. I’m gonna look around and try to find it.

    I loved that calculator, too. My next one was an HP 28S that I used for several years (until it was stolen).

  8. robert says:

    I really wonder who made HP hire Mr. Apotheker. He had worked for SAP quite a while (before he became CEO), but his time as CEO there was rather short. Apparently they wanted to get rid of him quite quickly. If that wasn’t a bad omen, then I don’t know what would have been.

    To me it seems big companies exchange CEOs like soccer clubs their coaches. I still don’t get how one that was fired because of apparent incompetence miraculously becomes a well respected coach again as soon as he signs his new contract somewhere else.

  9. landon says:

    $mike: You have a good point; Apple was widely viewed as headed for the skids until they started pulling some “really tuppin’ stunts” in the late 90s and got born-again hard.

    Then again, it practically took the Second Coming to make that happen. That’s unlikely to happen at HP. Maybe Microsoft can send Ballmer down there or something.

  10. Mark Ransom says:

    I never got the chance to use the HP calculators, but my first exposure to computers was when they wheeled a teletype into 8th grade math class and dialed up the HP 2000C. I’ve been hooked ever since. A few years later I was able to use the HP plotter for a short time, I still remember the commands PLTL and PLTT for it.

    My first inkjet printer was also an HP, back when they competed on quality and not ink sales lock-in.

    Thanks for triggering the memories.

  11. Rich says:

    HP was an engineering company until they introduced the LaserJet series of printers. That huge success changed HP for better or worse. Since then, another home run has been elusive and boy have they tried.

    However, Adobe was a company that managed to break out from their PostScript cash cow so anything is possible.

  12. Peter Gordon says:

    Now, I know you’re working for Microsoft, but you have to admit that the webOS devices were cool. How HP have treated them since buying Palm has put me right off HP.

    In the future, I’ll probably move to a Windows phone, but I’m going to get a Pre 3 from eBay and keep it until it dies, I think. Although I’m still pretty happy with my original Palm Pre.

  13. joel garry says:

    With all the hullaballo about Oracle in the cloud, guess what google finds when you put in 12c.

    I never had an hp. I still have my Corvus 500 somewhere buried in the basement. But the batteries leaked so I have to use an external power supply to make it work.

    All companies go through life cycles, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just think, if they had tried and screwed up that Jobs kids idea…

  14. Wally The Walrus says:

    Dont forget Apollo computer – makers of the first real engineering workstation computers and with an uber-cool networked operating system (and the coolest object oriented filesystem ever ever ever). Bought, consumed, and killed off entirely by HP.

    The death of HP has been a terrible thing, not a single person working for them has good things to say about the new management. That’s what happens when the engineers are not allowed to run the show any more.

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