Saturday, February 11, 2012

Miracle, courtesy of ebay

Watch this amusing link about the value of vintage items:

I was an avid baseball card collector in the 60's, had thousands of cards. In the early 80's I was cleaning my garage and considered throwing out my large box of cards, so was extremely pleased and thought it was a windfall when I sold them for $180 to a guy visiting from out of town in a hotel room who had advertised in the paper. Five years later, when my own boys began collecting, I realized card collecting was hot and the cards I sold were surely worth over a thousand. Money left on the table, as they say, and I sorely regretted the sale, for nostalgia's sake as well as the money.

Fast forward to today. I was cleaning out my desk last week and considered my old HP calculators. One in particular no longer worked--the battery had leaked inside. I happened to still have the original box, manual, case, and misc. papers for it, so I did a little research on the internet to see what it was worth and if I could fix it. I was surprised to see working models going for over $200 so I made an effort to fix it, no luck. Still, I listed it for sale on ebay.

I was pleased to see immediate interest, and got a couple of emails with questions. My expectation was $40 to $60, which I thought would be windfall for a broken calculator. I was surprised and encouraged to see 33 "watchers" for my auction item, and several bids going to $15. I knew many bidders wait until the last minute, and this auction lasted seven days, but was still tickled when the bids went to $70 with a day still to go. With a few hours to go I was ecstatic to see the high bid at $139, in shock really. I couldn't imagine a higher price, but went online to watch any action as the auction came to a close. With a couple of minutes left a bid came in at $142 and that looked like it, and the page then showed less than a minute left.

The next computer screen update the item shifted down the page into the "sold" category and I had to hunt a bit for the final price. I thought there was some error when I saw $307. THREE HUNDRED AND SEVEN DOLLARS!!! Are you kidding me?!? This was no fluke with one bidder, since the winner outbid someone else who topped out at $302.

I was in absolute shock, and rather giddy. And in disbelief. I carefully reread my description, making sure I didn't misrepresent something. I was very clear about it not working. I have to believe the unique value is in the original box and other accompanying materials, and the condition of those. Here is a link to the auction, and a photo of the items.

Isn't ebay a marvelous thing, both for buyers and sellers?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Scientific Calculation Turned Upside Down

As a youth we had this circular computational device called a "Who's a Hitter", which helped calculate batting averages and ERA. It was a marvelous device to ease the division exercise. It was nothing more than a form of the common slide rule of its day.

Slide rules were fantastic devices to help with all sorts of math, science, and engineering computations. I was very intrigued by them, and learned to use them at a young age. My freshman year as an engineering student at BYU in 1970 we had to take a class in how to operate a slide rule, keeping track of the decimal point as we manipulated the logarithms of numbers.

I took a two year break from college for my mission and when I returned to my engineering studies in 1973 the world had turned upside down. Hewlett Packard had revolutionized the scientific calculator world with its HP-35 pocket calculator, which could do trig functions, roots, powers, and more. These were super expensive for poor college students at $300 or more. I bought the next generation model HP-21 in 1975 for the still dear price of $125. (I still have this calculator and it still works!)

I recall in my advanced math class in high school we were loaned a programmable desktop calculator, which I believe was the HP-9100. I was blown away by it, and was fascinated with programming it to solve the quadratic equation. I'm sure this early experience had an impact on my choice of college studies and career.

I have continued to use HP calculators throughout my career, and still have several vintage models, including my HP-21. They have become valuable collector's items. I was cleaning out my desk and decided to sell my HP-29C on ebay. Even though it no longer works, I still have the box, manual, and other items, and apparently these are valuable and rare because the high bid is over $70 already! Here is the item.

Operating these HP calculators is a joy, with their high quality construction, button feel, and RPN number entry. And playing with my old "toys" shoots me back in time to my college days and working for HP in Boise.