HP-12C, I Wanted to Love You

by Johnny Debacle

HP-12C. I wanted to liked you. I wanted to love you.

I grew up seeing you in the hands of rich elite men of finance, men so powerful they could choose any model to calculate bond payments or whatever it is exactly people use financial calculators for these days. And yet they all chose you. Your gilded metallic head and your firm tightly constructed box conveyed elegance. You were refined yet sleek enough to look good in your leather case. I wanted to be a man so I could press your buttons and create binary reactions in your core logic.

But then that day came, when I pressed your buttons for the first time, receiving tactile feedback on the tips of my fingers as your LCD lit up with numbers. The experience was entirely incomprehensible. I knew the first time would be different, that it would take getting some used to before it felt natural, but I never knew it would be so complicated, so radically different from my intuition and a complete departure from every single calculator I had used up to that point. I cannot calculate interest payments on you, I can’t even add 2 + 2 on you. I gazed at you for 15 minutes in my CFA Prep Class, the impenetrable enigma of your buttons glaring back at me and I couldn’t make anything happen. I could not get it, or you, done.

My cohort is the first to be digital natives, so the problem doesn’t lie with my tech literacy. Manual? In these times, if you can’t be picked up and understood, then you are a relic. Usability, intuitive design, all that junk are Now.

You, like many childhood fantasies, are a busted balloon, timeless in my youth, somehow extremely dated in my manhood. No one calculates like you do, you are backwards and twisted, hewn by men who used punch cards to learn computing. I am not even sure what purpose a calculator really servers in a world of ubiquitous computing power. But I do know my CFA Exam mandated model, will not be you, but instead be the TI BA II Plus.

As the fire dims in the old men of finance, as they retire to super-yachts and cheating on their mistresses with their mistresses, so too will you dim further, HP-12C, your place obsolete, your model changed for the new or the different and your glory a distant memory of a time past.

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  1. Mike
    September 20th, 2006 | 5:41 pm

    Yeah, my boss has one of them. Never did get it, in truth.

  2. Bond investor
    September 27th, 2006 | 2:44 pm

    I’m probably biased, as my father worked for HPQ (he still thinks of it as HWP) for 25 years, but the 12C is a marvelous piece of hardware.

    It’s small enough to fit in a shirt or pants pocket, and the simple “manual” on the back on the unit was always good enough for me to do just about everything I needed.

    I think AIMR needs a standard calculator, and can’t afford to put PCs in front of every exam-taker, so this one persists. I can still see the faint vestiges of the “AIMR” yellow sticker from years ago when I brought the 12C into the exam.

    As far as RPN versus algebraic number entry, you just get used to it. RPN does require fewer keystrokes for multiple terms. Think of it like the Forth computing language. Of course, I’m the type of person that still wants a Dvorak keyboard.

  3. Bwhahaha
    October 1st, 2006 | 11:55 pm

    Dude… the 12C is like a jedi lightsaber. Sure there are calculators that are faster/sleeker. But they don’t help you channel the force. Seriously, it’s all about form factor and terseness. Besides, battery life lasts ohh.. 10 years or so.

  4. poseidon
    October 24th, 2006 | 12:45 pm

    Funny, as a child growing up, I never said “Gee, I can’t wait to someday have 3 calculators on my desk.” There is the ubiquitous 10b-2, my starter calc in finance, like my first lover, knowing every crook and crevice. Then the big leagues came, I stepped up to the BA2 Plus. It’s like your post college girlfriend who is smarter and better looking than you. You work it, but never feels quite right and there is always some new challenge ot get through. Then alas, the 12-c, there to look cool, much like an exciting, sexy mistress, but having no idea how to approach her, she sits, gathering dust.

  5. Dan
    November 27th, 2006 | 5:07 pm

    I love RPN. It took me a short while to get used to it, but now I hate algebraic calculators. They’re so primitive and unintuitive.

  6. July 2nd, 2007 | 5:08 am

    Great post! Maybe you should rename this as “An Ode to HP12C” I wrote a related post on the ease of use, and efficiency of an HP12C, you can check it out at http://www.jpmartin.com

  7. JT
    September 6th, 2007 | 2:14 pm

    Amazing post, captures cleary and succinctly what I thought to myself at my 1st conference call after analyst training when the old guard busted the 12c out and I was the 1st one with the answer (done in my head, not even requiring the far-superior BAII+) before anyone could even come close with their antiquated 12c’s. Like Henry Blodget, they are symbols of a bygone era.

  8. October 21st, 2007 | 8:30 pm

    RPN is without a doubt the most useless fuck-all invention known to man. Designed solely to confuse those with smaller white/grey matter ratio’s the end result is merely a segregation of dorks from those with social capabilities – ultimately, nothing more than darwinian separation via a calculator.

    FUCK (MY_SHIT)^2

  9. Sherman McCoy
    August 17th, 2010 | 1:40 pm

    I got an HP12c for my birthday in 1974. It still runs on its original battery. While I never mastered it, I will cherish it forever – it’s retro chic.

    Most of you newbies taking the CFA were in diapers when I got in the business. I’d suggest you find another line of work. Anything you can do, Jagdish in Bombay can do for about 60% less – without the entitlement attitude. The hedge fund era is so over..