Sunday, January 16, 2011

Calculator Future Shock

Moore's Law plays havoc with cartoonists.  In 1976, hand-held technology was changing rapidly, and the race was on to develop pocket calculators that were smaller, cheaper and loaded with all sorts of features.  And the first LCD wristwatch had just shown up, soon to be followed by the combination wristwatch-stopwatch, the alarm wristwatch and the watch with the built-in calendar.  These were the days before anyone had heard of a killer app for iPhone.  Observing the pace of change, I thought I'd be clever and draw a Stickles cartoon that paid homage to all of it.
But, alas, I was too late.  Casio had already beaten me to the punch, by coming out with a calculator wristwatch, as my thursday editors solemnly informed me.  I thought about ways of trying to update the strip by coming up with other gee-whiz features that I knew a wristwatch wasn't going to have for a million years, but Moore's Law was too powerful an influence, so instead I admitted defeat.
I did have another strip about fancy gizmos on calculators
As calculators became more powerful, they became cheaper.  Within ten years, calculators were being given away like wall calendars.
And there were also disagreements about the direction of calculator technology.  These resembled VHS versus Betamax, DOS versus Linux, and Yahoo! versus Google.  Texas Instruments had calculators that worked the way most of us calculate simple math: 1 plus 2 equals 3.  Hewlett Packard, however, designed its calculators to work in "reverse Polish", in which the mathematical operations were performed the way accountants might do it on an adding machine (look it up; Wikipedia probably has an entry on adding machines).  That is, 1 enter, 2 plus, 3 equals.  Confusing, for those of us not versed in it, but some people loved the way HP did it and others loved it the way TI did it.  Stickles, of course, looked for a third way...

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