This is a chapter from RCL 20: People, Dreams & HP Calculators, a book edited by Wlodek Mier-Jedrzejowicz and Frank Wales. The back cover text, introduction and table of contents are also available.
By Mark Power
The Internet has moved on a long way during the lifetime of HPCC. Back when HPCC was formed the Internet was for the military and the odd university. If you wanted to talk to a computer network you had to get hold of a hideously expensive green screen terminal, a ridiculously expensive acoustic coupler and dial up a mainframe. Back in those days we relied on club meetings and Datafile. HP calculators like the HP41 offered better networking capabilities than most computers, but you had to have deep pockets to put together a HP-IL network of more than a few devices and you could only communicate with people directly connected to your network.
In the late 1980's bulletin boards started cropping up allowing computer hobbyists to communicate over greater distances. HPCC members could dial in to 'The No Zone'. Here you could converse with other like-minded people. HP's calculator division had its own bulletin board where end users could chat with the designers of their machines - even if they were occasionally met with the HP "blank stare".
I used The No Zone and even tried the HP bulletin board directly. The trouble was the technology used by the calculators of the day and that used to get on to the bulletin board were a bit tricky to interface to each other. I often ended up printing out listings and then typing them into the calculator. If you knew what you were doing you could get Kermit to transfer files to your machine. To get this to work reliably I ended up writing a terminal emulator program that ran on the HP48S/SX. Then at the appropriate point you could exit the terminal emulator and start a transfer. This was all pretty hard work and expensive.
Then we started to get the backbone of the Internet as we know it today. Usenet news and email arrived. At first only people with networked Unix systems could get comp.sys.hp48. A few months later everyone had access as news readers were ported to other platforms. Then Personal Computers started replacing workstations as a means of accessing the net and prices dropped down to a level where you could afford to connect up at home.
Nowadays we take this for granted. We have access to the WWW and email on phones, PDAs, laptops, televisions, cameras and even microwaves and fridges.
People can now connect into comp.sys.hp48 and lurk, reading the chat of more gregarious people. The brave can enter discussions. If you want software, www.hpcalc.org has virtually every piece of software ever written for the HP48 and HP49 and quite a lot for the HP28. The HP41 is having a bit of a virtual renaissance at www.hp41.org. We even have a virtual HP Calculator Museum where you can see pictures and read about older machines.
Numerous other sites provide interesting diversions for the dedicated. Gene Wright has a site with programs for virtually every programmable calculator from the HP-25 to the HP42S. On another site there is a HP-12C program for converting Maya dates to Christian dates.
If you have a Jornada, the Internet is directly accessible. The inclusion of a full web browser and email tool in the latest generation of machines means you don't need a PC in order to access vast amounts of software and online information.
The Internet has become a very useful tool for our club, allowing access to vast amounts of information that was previously difficult to obtain. While HPCC has enthusiastic members and until virtual meetings are as realistic as real life and the Internet is as easy to read as Datafile, HPCC will survive. If you do want to go down the Internet route, just start at www.hpcc.org.
Excepted from RCL 20: People, Dreams & HP Calculators, W.A.C. Mier-Jedrzejowicz Ph.D. & Frank Wales (Eds), 2002, ISBN: 0-9510733-3-8
The back cover text, introduction and table of contents are also available.