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HP's beloved 12c calculator turns 30

Reverse Polish Notation. The geekerati's bond

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One of the most durable examples of mobile electronic goodness is turning 30: the HP 12c Financial Calculator.

Learning the Reverse Polish Notation entry system of the HP 12c has been a rite of passage for Wall Street moneymen since 1981, when the HP 12c was introduced along with such other calculating classics as the HP 15c scientific calculator and the HP 16c, which was designed for programmers.

Those latter two calculators have since been consigned to the dustbin of history – and undoutedly into some desks' bottom drawers – but the HP 12c is still available on HP's online store for a mere $69.99.

Hewlett-Packard 12C financial calculator

The HP 12c Financial Calculator – a thing of beauty is a joy forever (click to enlarge)

The HP 12c was a powerhouse in its day: 20 registers, over 120 functions, a 99-step memory, and a single-line, 10-character LCD display. Do we need to point out that the display is monochrome? I think not.

HP also offers a platinum edition of the HP 12c for ten bucks more, claiming that the platinum number is "6 times faster with 4 times more memory than the original HP 12c."

Unlike the original gold model, the 2003 platinum upgrade can also take entries in standard algebraic form. This latter capability might be considered blasphemy for true RPN devotees – who, quite possibly, cut their teeth on Forth.

There's even an official HP 12C iPhone app. It runs a relatively stiff $14.99, though, so you might want to check out one of the dozen or so other less-expensive or free iOS homages to both the original and the platinum versions.

Of course, the HP 12C is a financial calculator – after all, it was The Wall Street Journal that tipped us off about its birthday. Should your passions run more towards, say, engineering, you'd most likely prefer the retro HP 35s Scientific or snazzy HP 50g Graphing calculators – both RPN-capable, by the way.

But if you dabble in the world of finance, it's time to hoist a pint to the HP 12c's thirtieth. Well, if you're in finance, you might prefer a nice, buttery Chardonnay, perhaps with oak overtones and a hint of pear or citrus. ®

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