Correspondence with a calculator collector. April 28, 2005

> Good to hear from you. I really like your web site. 
Thanks. It's pretty crude and mostly a stream-of-consciousness rambling... Probably as is much of my conversation.. LOL.. I just put it together one night after Joerg's e-mail to me.

>So, you are the father of the TI-150. I bought one at an estate sale over in Highland Park.
> I later found out that is seems to be the "holy grail" of TI collectors. It is very interesting
> to hear about the plasma display. Was it used because the TI-150 was marketed as a
> higher end calculator? I guess it was harder on batteries than the LEDs?

Paternity established.. Yes, the TI-150 was intended for the executive who didn't want to put on his reading glasses to use the calculator. Actually the battery drain wasn't too bad. I run mine from AA Alkalines and it seems to be pretty good.....as long as I remember to turn it off.. :-)

>How did you go about designing a calculator?
>Did the marketing people set certain parameters and price points for a project? 
>Did you have a concept of key size, battery type, display, and case shape 
>before you started? Were the chips designed for you, or were you told to 
>make use of certain pre-existing chips?

The marketing folks would say that they needed a unit with certain features to sell for a certain price point with a certain mark-up to wholesale. The design wasn't a one-man show, but rather was a team made up of a lead electrical guy (myself, on the 150 and 450 in particular) along with a couple of Mechanical Engineers, an Industrial designer (Stylist), a QC representative and a couple of technicians. The stylist and ME's did the case and keyboard. If the unit was a printer, there was a printer team, too. Regarding the chips.. In most cases those were already designed out of Houston although sometimes we would work with the chip folks to spec one specifically for a job. 

One piece of TI memorabilia that I really wish I had from that time was a working TI-450 in a metal machined case that was the prototype for the styling. I'm not sure why they went to that much trouble, but it was certainly unique.

>I am not a real calculator collector. I am buying some of the calculators that I 
>remember from high school and college.

I have a philosophy on collecting that has been evolving over the past few years and that is that, other than original art, which my wife has always collected, it probably does not make a lot of sense to be a private collector in a big way. I've had some discussion with other telegraph collectors and some of us have come to the conclusion that the next generation will probably not have the personal connection to this stuff that us ham radio old timers have and that the monetary and collectable value will decline except on very unusual rare pieces. I suspect that may be the case for a lot of other memorabilia where the general collecting public is concerned. I'm afraid though that whenever my kids have to deal with my "Stuff" there'll still be a pile of it for them to sort through in spite of my occasional eBay efforts... 

>I wouldn't mind finding one of the first Datamath calculators (the ones with the CE/D
>button in the left corner. If you know of any for sale, let me know.

I should take a look at my mom's that I got for her very early on when I went to TI. I suspect that it's not one of the CE/D one's, though. It still sits on her desk and runs off the charger since the batteries have long since lost the ability to hold a charge.. I was just over there earlier this evening, too, durn it..

> So you remember the watches TI made too! TI LED watches produced some strange
> sights on college campuses.

Sure. I even have one. I've not put batteries in it in a couple of decades. I even designed some test equipment for the watch department which was right next to us in the South Building when I was there. The gadget I built was a calibrator and had a coil that picked up the signal from the 32768 Hz crystal oscillator and allowed the operator to watch a display and adjust the tiny trimmer capacitor inside to get the calibration right on the nose.

> It is neat that you collect old ham gear and telegraphs. I enjoy first generation
>technology. These things have some odd engineering to them before the paradigms 
>got set for how to make something.

Yes, it's interesting to see some of the creative ideas when a technology is new.

>I also like transitional technology: Things like the hybrid tube/transistor radios that 
>made sense for about a year in the mid 50's before the price of transistors came down.
>These kinds of things have some of the most interesting engineering. 

I had an RCA color TV that I bought when I got married the first time in 1970. It had tubes, discrete transistors, silicon high voltage rectifiers and a couple of IC's. It was a miserable piece of junk that I kept running for about 7 years and finally threw away rather than repair one more time. LOL..

> I design radio systems, sites, antenna systems etc. Although I have never designed a
> product, I am fascinated with how electronic products are designed and produced. It is
> interesting to see how costs are reduced as a design is optimized. You were certainly 
>in a very competitive field. TI seemed to be far ahead of everyone else though.

I've always been involved in some sort of product design and like the feel of giving birth to something that provides some value to others.


*******Warning!****** 
Below is a lot of rambling and probably more information than you may want. Proceed at your own risk!

I don't know if you read my bio information on my personal site. It's pretty condensed and doesn't reflect a lot of the things I've been involved in through the years. When I left TI I joined some old acquaintances back here in Illinois who had started an agricultural electronics company called Dickey-john. They made a lot of innovative products for farmers and OEM customers like John Deere, International Harvester and many others. http://www.dickey-john.com/ Around 1981 the ag market took a big hit and the company downsized from 900 employees to around 300. I was laid off.

Fortunately I found a position as a college electronics instructor and did that full time for 3 years until I found the Chief Engineer's job that I have now.

As if I didn't have enough to do with a day job and raising 5 kids, I always, even back in the TI days, had consulting work that I did on the side. While at TI. although after I left the calculator division, I designed a calculator using a different company's chip set, that was made to fit in the plate in the center of the standard Beech craft steering yoke. The guy who paid for the project was never able to sell many of them, although it was designed to pass the EMC requirements that Beech insisted on and was offered by them as an official accessory.

I designed and manufactured at home some specialized score keeping equipment for the Professional Photographers of America. It was prototyped using calculator chips along with a bunch of logic chips. Production units used the Mostek F8 microprocessor chips and later ones used the 6502.

Starting while I was still at Dj, but as a "side" project, I designed a system for a catfish farm in Mississippi, a system to remotely monitor dissolved oxygen in their hundreds and hundreds of acres of ponds. It was a critical issue as a low enough DO level could kill 10 tons of fish in less than an hour. That project got hit with the ag market collapse of 1980/81 and never went into full operation.

About that time I was approached by a company that owned and operated self service car washes. They wanted timers with digital read-outs to indicate the amount of time remaining and the ability to accumulate time by dropping in additional quarters. I designed that and manufactured a few hundred of them in my basement. I then built several prototypes of a talking carwash controller using phoneme speech synthesis chips from National Electronics. There was a speaker in each bay that confirmed the payments and announced how much time was left as the wash was used. It had a master controller that could handle up to 8 bays with redundant timer controllers for each bay so that a failure of the master unit would not kill the whole business. The prototype of that was installed in 1980 and the owner finally retired it about three years ago after running with very little maintenance for some 22 years.

Then later, while I was teaching college, I was a consultant for a company that manufactures photo-electric sensors and designed several of their products. About that same time I was approached by Bunn-O-Matic, the coffee maker people, who have their corporate HQ and engineering here in Illinois, to do some consulting for them. This resulted in my designing a prototype of a timer to replace the electromechanical one that controls the water valve in their large institutional coffee makers that are connected to a water line. The timer had to be form, fit and function exact replacements for the electromechanical units that were being discontinued. Once I had a prototype, they suggested they'd like to find a local manufacturer for that item and probably some other electronics they were buying. I got with a couple of my Dj friends who had an old wave solder machine and we got a purchase order for 10,000 timers and were on our way. I also designed some electronic thermostats for the water tanks and things went along well for a couple of years. Eventually disagreements over management and compensation caused enough problems that I finally sold my interest in the company to the other two guys who started it with me.

Shortly after this, in the mid 80's, I got involved with the coin-operated machine business and designed some electronics for some simple coin operated amusement devices for a local company that placed them in restaurants, truck stops and the like. I also manufactured the electronics with my first wife running the operation during the day while I was at my day jog. The kids also got involved in the assembly and I did the testing and troubleshooting at night. I also drummed up some contract assembly from some other companies in that market. I don't know if you have seen the little carousel and pony rides in front of Wal-marts and K-marts. I designed and we made timers and sound effect synthesizers for them by the thousands for a while. The original coin-op customer died...literally! His family tried to run the business for a while, but were unsuccessful and left me with a lot of unsold inventory and accounts payable that hurt me financially a lot.

About that time, 1993, I really reigned in the outside work and only did some occasional design work, but no manufacturing. Shortly after that my marriage began to have problems as my first wife found herself with a lot of time on her hands and filled that time with some inappropriate afternoon activity. I eventually divorced her in 1997 with all the 5 kids behind me.

Then came the Internet... I started my original personal web site in 1994. The current one is it's direct descendent and still has some of the original content, although it's moved servers a few times. I'm now part owner of a company that offers dialup Internet access across the US via reselling multiple networks and we do web hosting for a variety of small clients. Another branch of the company provides mortgage brokering for churches. I know you're wondering, where did that come from? My two partners have expertise in that area so we rolled it into our corporation.

So there you have it... Most of my career over the past 30-some years. If you read this far, you are a persistent fellow.

Let me know if I can give you any more information or be of any assistance..

Regards,

Roger Whitaker

 

 

 

 

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