I got an e-mail with a link to the limited edition 30th anniversary HP 12C.
I do admit to having several 12C incidents from my early years on Wall Street come rushing back.
My first encounter with the 12C was actually quite embarrassing.
I had just been hired at AG Becker, and the second day on the job my boss asked me to hand verify some numbers coming out of the Fortran program our traders were using to trade Ginnie Mae MBS.
He handed me an HP 12C to do the calculations. It only took a quick glance to see that the calculator in my hand didn’t have an equal sign. It didn’t occur to me that anyone would sell a product that required a user to understand and use something as arcane as Reverse Polish Notation. I had worked with a machine that used that method, back in 1968, but that was a time when every transistor, and therefore every nand or nor gate, was precious and expensive.
Rather than admit that I couldn’t do what he obviously considered a trivial task, I went searching for something I could use. On another floor I found a modified adding machine (a Monroe Bond Trader) no one was using, and I did what was needed.
More on that flawed Monroe calculator later….
The second memory that came back when I saw that 12C was the gift we gave our boss, Jim Crowley, at Prudential when he was elevated to head the investment banking division. We (the Associates) were quite used to Jim expecting us to make him look good by doing all the numbers before he ever met with anyone, so it was natural for us to have a special Lucite “tombstone” made with a 12C embedded inside the block of plastic where Jim would never be able to touch the keypad again.
Still, it’s just a bit much to celebrate the anniversary of a calculator, don’t you think?
I did promise to explain something about the Monroe Bond Trader. That was the (nearly a thousand dollar apiece) calculator that sat on every bond trader’s desk, and on the desks of the higher producing salesmen. It calculated yields if you put in the coupon, price, trade date, payment dates and maturities for conventional (30/360 calendar) corporate or Treasury bonds. What it didn’t do was adjust correctly for actual days or Leap Years. When I wrote my first simple yield calculator program on our new computer, I was informed in very strong terms that my program was wrong, wrong, wrong.
The trader who berated me was sure because my numbers didn’t exactly match the Monroe. It took me nearly a week to figure out what the Monroe was doing (simplifying date-difference calculations) and reprogram my little utility program to match the Monroe numbers. It didn’t matter that the new numbers were slightly wrong — it only mattered that our traders and salesmen were getting the same numbers as the customer and competitors used.
I suppose the most important part of that lesson was the fact that agreeing with the market is sometimes more valued than accuracy.