What’s a Lawyer Doing with an HP Financial Calculator?

August 29th, 2007

My father gave me an HP 12c calculator several years ago when I talked to him about how I need to understand financial statementsimages.jpg better. He also gave me a whole bunch of stuff to read that has definitely helped me to understand how to look at a balance sheet. I’m still a better lawyer than a finance guy, but the calculator is brilliant.

In truth, I never use any of the advanced features. Fortunately, my clients rely on actual financial experts for serious data-crunching, but once I got used to the way the HP works there was no way I was going to go back to a “regular” calculator.

The best feature is that the calculator “remembers” things better than most others. You don’t need to hit “M”; it just automatically stores the last number in memory.

Along with this goes the “reverse polish” input method. Someday I’ll understand how this name came about (though it’s probably a story not worth telling), but the essence of it is that you enter a number, hit “Enter” to put it in memory, then enter the next number and then hit the function you want: add, subtract, etc. I constantly screw up when I go back to a regular calculator now and do things in the wrong order. It’s worth the trade-off, though, because if you mistype on the HP you can hit “clear” and re-start right before you messed up. No starting all over with a long string of addition. My fumblefingers appreciate this immensely.

The last really fun thing about the calculator is the manual. The 12c was first introduced in 1982 (I’m told it was incredibly revolutionary at the time). The manual hasn’t been updated since. It uses examples like “I bought a computer for $2000 and a disk drive to accompany it also for $2000”. I’m sure someone decided that these archaisms (?) made the examples much more interesting and fun, and deliberately decided not to update them.

Now you can get the 25th anniversary “platinum edition”. I’m almost tempted since I spilled a drink on mine and some of the keys still stick occasionally, but it works so darn well apart from that I think I’ll hang onto it. It’s also constructed like a tank. I bet I’ll still have mine when the 50th anniversary edition comes out. Ooh, diamond. I might have to upgrade for that one.

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