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#WLAMF no. 36: Antique Calculators

I first went off to college in 1984. (I say "first" because I've had a somewhat checkered college career, with many false starts.) On the occasion of my going off to school, to learn (or so I thought) computer engineering, I got myself a programmable calculator: a Radio Shack EC-4004.

I've moved rather a lot since then, but somehow, and without any deliberate intention on my part, that calculator seems to have stuck with me...kind of like a cursed ring in an old Dungeons & Dragons game, with less eternal suffering and more calculating definite integrals. (Yes, it could do that.)

I found the calculator a few days back, while I was digging through a drawer looking for a roll of tape. It's been through a lot; it's covered with dust, and I have a hazy memory of spilling a shot of apple schnapps on it at some point in the past.

I flicked the power switch, not expecting a lot, and...it worked! The batteries, which have never been replaced and are now old enough to vote and drink alcohol, still worked a treat.

As powerful as modern smartphones and similar devices are, there's no chance they'll still work after a similar amount of time. Flash memory is cheap but transient, and loses information over time. Modern lithium ion batteries degrade over time. Leave an iPhone in a drawer for twenty years and it will be a paperweight on the other side.

This old calculator has a paltry amount of processing power compared even to a modern watch, but you gotta admire the way it just keeps going.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Dec. 16th, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
I have a Casio FX-570c from 1985. It uses a LR44 battery. I finally had to replace the battery a couple of years ago.

Funnily the wallet-case it came in had started to plasticise and degrade; the calculator itself works just fine!

One reason I got it is that it does binary/octal/decimal/hexadecimal and I used to use it for base conversion :-)
MODE 1 to enter base-n mode
ENG to enter Decimal mode
ENG<- returns 64h
SHIFT-ENG returns 1100100b
SHIFT-ENG<- returns 144o
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )