The Calculator of Lost Senses

Humans just want to have fun.

Attempted repair by unauthorized persons voids warranty.

Antique electronic calculator
2, Y^X, 64 = 1.844x10¹⁹ or 18,446,744,073,709,551,616

What they don’t know can’t hurt them, right? If it fits, I can charge it.

hat have we lost by letting ourselves get lost in the massively overpowered bits that bring us video over Ta Interwebs without hesitation?

This calculator was made in England in 1974 by Commodore, LTD. It doesn’t hesitate to calculate 2⁶⁴ (the number of parallel instruction bits your new phone can handle) with the press of 4 buttons. It was designed on the tail end of the age of slide rule engineering. The people who designed it chose the buttons, the colors, the arrangement and the functionality based on useful, practical work. Unlike the expensive ‘Maths’ specialties of the day made by Texas Instruments and Hewlett Packard, it doesn’t “click” every time you press a button. Working in the subdued professional offices where people are concentrating, these engineers didn’t want to add stress to their coworkers or break their concentration. Those coworkers might be building a plane they would fly on one day. Imperial students were to be seen, not heard.

hey didn’t need to prove how smart they were by showing others that they could operate a needlessly overcomplicated tool. Hence, no extra programming, just two memory holes, and a button for logarithms. Do you need conversions from degrees to radians or polar to rectangular conversions? There’s a button for that You’re welcome. Need to convert to engineering notation, or shift a decimal point? There are buttons for that, too. Are you unsure if you’re in the right ballpark? Do you need that in billions of dollars? Just press the EE up or down buttons until it shows 10⁹.

This was straightforward, pragmatic help for brains that were busy juggling the newly discovered rules of physics, electronics and functional technologies. This wasn’t a Device meant to teach you how to use Devices. It was a tool, like a shovel or a prybar for digging into the soil and rocks of technology.

ther than the non user-replaceable battery, this example was still functional when I purchased it from Ebay a few years ago. My original one had an unfortunate encounter with a toddler and a toilet in the Eighties, and no matter how many times I tried to clean and reinstall the pads and keys, it had to eventually be replaced with an inferiorly ‘better’ model (LCD display and button batteries; ick).

When this bit of nostalgia showed up, it worked as long as it was plugged in (ha! with a 220 volt adapter block from England), and that was satisfying for a time.

Then I said to myself, “Self. They used regular batteries in those days, so there should be room for something related to lithium inside.” Ergo, the second picture. Not only did the small lithium pack fit, but its charger board as well.

Sure, it’s not original: but the people who designed it would have killed Commies with their pointily whittled slide rules for the power to work all evening that it stores now.

Reader. Fixer. Maker.

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