HP provides an impressive quantity of user documentation, but quantity is no guarantee of quality! Tom Barber, the author of this book, has been a professional programmer of the C/UNIX persuasion for more than 25 years. He has been hooked on HP calculators ever since his college days as a math major in the ‘70s, when he discovered that he could implement Gaussian quadrature on the HP-25. He believes that the reputation of HP calculators, as being somewhat difficult to use, has a lot to do with the user documentation, and that is why he wrote this book.
Even though written primarily with novice users in mind, experienced users who occasionally find themselves frustrated with the calculator may also find help within the pages of this book. The author takes a tutorial approach for certain topics such as the Equation Writer, and overall, his narrative explanations are better organized and more complete than those found in HP’s manuals. He uses tables and bulleted lists for topics where a more accessible summary of the essential facts and behaviors is needed. Regardless of what approach he takes with a given topic, he has paid careful attention to the importance of writing in a clear, precise manner, so that you won’t find yourself scratching your head and wondering what he was trying to say. This book won’t make you an expert in the advanced mathematical capabilities of these calculators (you’d need a Ph.D. in math as a prerequisite for that), but it will likely improve your understanding of the general use of the calculator.
Topics covered include:
Essential Architectural Features - The opening chapter gives an overview of the concepts that are essential to the calculator’s operating environment. It discusses the differences between the two operating modes, the basic object types that you work with in routine use of the calculator, and the essential rules and techniques for managing variables, including an overview of why and when you sometimes need to quote variable names.
Keypad operation, including how the alpha caps-lock actually works - Alpha and Locked Alpha are straightforward, but if the caps-lock doesn’t behave as you would expect based on what you read in your owner’s manual, that is probably because the explanation that you read in that manual wasn’t entirely correct.
Essential calculator modes - The settings and flags that you use to manage the display are explained thoroughly, and the different ways to represent real numbers in the display are explained.
What the CAS modes Numeric and Approx actually do - The explanation, of the important CAS settings Numeric and Approx, clearly distinguishes the effects of those two settings from each other, and clearly explains the differences in the effect of Approx for the two operating modes.
Basic entry techniques using the command line are explained thoroughly, first for Algebraic mode, and then for RPN mode.
The techniques and commands that you use to manage global variables are thoroughly explained, including the quoting rules and the various shortcut methods.
The text editor - The text editor has a few subtle behaviors that are explained carefully, some of which pertain to marking text for cutting, copying and pasting, some of which pertain to using font styles, and all of which are thoroughly explained in the book.
The Equation Writer - If you work along with the examples in the tutorial, you may subsequently find yourself using the Equation Writer more often than the command line.
Screen-based re-use of prior expressions - The interactive history techniques for Algebraic mode, and the interactive stack techniques for RPN mode are explained, along with how to access the Equation Writer within the text editor, and how to access the text editor within the Equation Writer.
Lists are explained, including how they behave differently in the two operating modes.
Custom menus are explained, using a tutorial exercise that reinforces the basic use of the calculator, especially the use of global variables.
Unit objects, Units conversions and the Constants Library are explained, including a succinct discussion of shortcuts and techniques for doing units conversions.
Complex numbers and ordered pairs - the use of complex numbers and ordered pairs is explained, including the important differences between using complex numbers in symbolic form vs. ordered pairs, for each of the two operating modes, for rectangular vs. polar coordinates, and for quoting vs. not quoting the expression.
Vectors and arrays are explained succinctly.
Binary integers and number bases are explained.
Character/Text Strings are explained, including the differences between using EDIT and VISIT vs. EDITB and VISITB when editing strings.
The Matrix Writer and the Statistics applications are explained.
The Equation Solver - Use of the numeric solver for solving and performing “what if” analyses on equations having many variables is explained.
The TVM Financial Solver - Use of the TVM Financial solver is explained, including how to use the solver to convert between nominal annual interest rates and effective annual interest rates.
The numerical solvers for polynomials and systems of equations are explained.
Programmatic management of the stack in RPN mode - The commands and techniques used to manage the stack programmatically in RPN mode are explained succinctly.
Recursive evaluation of the RPN command line and RPL programs - If the behavior of the RPN command line interpreter can be summed up in one word, it would be “recursive”. Yet, HP’s manuals say practically nothing about this essential behavior, and that leaves you with a lot to figure out through experimentation. Three simple, mutually dependent procedures written in pseudo-code, explain this essential behavior in a way that virtually anyone can understand. One of them applies to programs and to the command line, one applies to names (local and global variables are treated differently), and the third applies to lists, which is similar to, but not identical to the one that applies to programs and the command line.
Programming the calculator in RPL - RPL programming is explained thoroughly, starting with an explanation of the debugging environment. The various techniques for interacting with the user of the program are discussed. The branching and looping constructs are explained in a succinct manner that will be appreciated by anyone who’s familiarity with these basic constructs is past the stage where they would want to see a flowchart used to explain a particular looping construct. The useful technique of using character strings as containers for your programs is explained thoroughly. The wind triangle problem in aviation, which is solved using the sine law, serves as the most important of several programming examples, and illustrates many important techniques, including interaction with the user, use of local variables, nested procedures and embedded algebraic expressions, 2-dimensional vectors in polar coordinates, character string manipulation, error handling, and more. A special effort is made to drive home the rules that establish when you need to use quotes and when you need to use EVAL to force an embedded object to be evaluated exactly as intended. The result is a robust, industrial-grade solution. In fact, the analysis and programmatic solution of this problem is more thorough than what you are likely to find elsewhere, and if you happen to have any special interest in this particular problem, this alone will justify the cost of this book.
Techniques for manipulating algebraic expressions symbolically - While developing the equations for translating between orbital distances and orbital periods, some of the basic commands and techniques for symbolic manipulation of algebraic expressions are explained. This tutorial exercise is used to explore and summarize the alternative approaches for setting up canned solutions for practical problems in general on the calculator.
Plotting - The plotter applications are explained, and in particular, the function plotter is practically dissected. Its idiosyncrasies, which are very real, are identified and explained, so that you may understand them and steer clear.
The File Manager - The File Manager is explained thoroughly.
System Operation - System operation, such as backing up and restoring your objects in flash memory, recovery from system errors, and using libraries, is explained.
Whether you want to perform some units conversions, do some arithmetic in non-integer bases, use the Equation Writer to enter an algebraic expression, solve an equation symbolically or numerically, use the file manager to organize your objects, solve a few problems in statistics, use the financial TVM solver to figure out your loan payments, plot some of your favorite mathematical functions, write a quick program or two, or restore something from backup, the succinct narrative style used in this manual is highly effective at communicating what you want to know. Numerous helpful tips and techniques are scattered throughout, and inside the back, you will find a summary of essential facts and shortcuts. Format is 8.5 x 11, with approximately 110 pages, roughly equivalent to 250 pages in a more typical handbook format.
Quotes from readers:
It's a great book.... It's top notch. It has everything in it that I need.... I put it on my reference shelf. I plan to read it one more time to make sure I absorb all the good material in the book.
The guide does several things: It explains how several previously obscure topics work, and often does so by giving some context where it might be used. For example, I have never seen any documentation that says you can place an entire program on the stack like a subroutine and then execute it as a result of an if statement, or purge it when the if does not satisfy the condition.
It covers topics not present in the [HP] Manual. Clear and comprehensive style.
More descriptions that the HP manuals.
Comprehensive brevity -- a rare writing style that I find refreshing; all meat and potatoes.
Fills in a lot of what is missing in the official HP documentation.