I saw a video on the HP85 personal computer from 1979 and it really got me thinking about how we do computing today.

How easy it it for the average user to sit down at a computer and do some computation?

I guess that the closest thing we have to a general purpose numbercruncher for most people is... Excel/Calc/Google Sheets?

That's absolutely not the direction HP, etc thought computation would go in 1979, I'm sure.

To make a graph of, say, sin x / x from -4π to 4π on the HP85 was as simple as:

flip the switch
enter the program:

10 SCALE -4*PI,4*PI,-1,1
20 XAXIS -4*PI,4*PI
30 YAXIS -1,1
40 RAD
50 FOR X=-4*PI to 4*PI STEP PI/4
100 END

Then, if you were happy with the output, simply hit PRINT and the integrated printer (!) would give you a beautiful thermal printout

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How do I make a graph of sin x on x on a modern computer?

Well, I have to either purchase additional software at a store (if it comes on a disk anymore, and my computer even has a disk drive), or connect to the internet and download it.

That's wack.

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well, gnuplot can do that:
xrange [-4*pi:4*pi]
plot sin(x)

For more advanced stuff, dependent whether you want to go more algebraic or more geometric, there is octave and geogebra, much more average user friendly.

All of that comes prepackaged with debian complete install.

@tindall I think that is why Excel is used so much for this despite not being actually good at it

@Canageek @tindall Excel underpins most engineering projects since 1996 because it's very good as a combination visualisation and computation tool. I've seen engineers do bridge span simulations and train brake design with it.
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