#WLAMF no. 36: Antique Calculators

I first went off to college in 1984. (I say “first” because I’ve had a somewhat checkered college career, with many false starts.) On the occasion of my going off to school, to learn (or so I thought) computer engineering, I got myself a programmable calculator: a Radio Shack EC-4004.

I’ve moved rather a lot since then, but somehow, and without any deliberate intention on my part, that calculator seems to have stuck with me…kind of like a cursed ring in an old Dungeons & Dragons game, with less eternal suffering and more calculating definite integrals. (Yes, it could do that.)

I found the calculator a few days back, while I was digging through a drawer looking for a roll of tape. It’s been through a lot; it’s covered with dust, and I have a hazy memory of spilling a shot of apple schnapps on it at some point in the past.

I flicked the power switch, not expecting a lot, and…it worked! The batteries, which have never been replaced and are now old enough to vote and drink alcohol, still worked a treat.

As powerful as modern smartphones and similar devices are, there’s no chance they’ll still work after a similar amount of time. Flash memory is cheap but transient, and loses information over time. Modern lithium ion batteries degrade over time. Leave an iPhone in a drawer for twenty years and it will be a paperweight on the other side.

This old calculator has a paltry amount of processing power compared even to a modern watch, but you gotta admire the way it just keeps going.


I’m writing one blog post for every contribution to our crowdfunding we receive between now and the end of the campaign. Help support indie publishing! We’re publishing five new books on polyamory in 2015.

2 thoughts on “#WLAMF no. 36: Antique Calculators

  1. I have a Casio FX-570c from 1985. It uses a LR44 battery. I finally had to replace the battery a couple of years ago.

    Funnily the wallet-case it came in had started to plasticise and degrade; the calculator itself works just fine!

    One reason I got it is that it does binary/octal/decimal/hexadecimal and I used to use it for base conversion 🙂
    MODE 1 to enter base-n mode
    ENG to enter Decimal mode
    100
    ENG< - returns 64h SHIFT-ENG returns 1100100b SHIFT-ENG<- returns 144o

  2. I have a Casio FX-570c from 1985. It uses a LR44 battery. I finally had to replace the battery a couple of years ago.

    Funnily the wallet-case it came in had started to plasticise and degrade; the calculator itself works just fine!

    One reason I got it is that it does binary/octal/decimal/hexadecimal and I used to use it for base conversion 🙂
    MODE 1 to enter base-n mode
    ENG to enter Decimal mode
    100
    ENG< - returns 64h SHIFT-ENG returns 1100100b SHIFT-ENG<- returns 144o

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *