The HP 95LX: A Must for Serious Students!

This profile documents a college business student's rather thorough use of the 95LX. A lot of good tips are included.

By Douglas D. Gilbert

I am a full-time undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Business. The instructor of my first business finance course highly recommended that we buy a good financial calculator. As I checked out the range of financial calculators on the market, $20 Sharps to the $100+ HP19B Financial Analyst, I noticed the HP 95LX. It seemed a bit pricey for a student, but I was curious so I put both the HP19B and the 95LX on my student charge account and took them home to do a detailed comparison of features.

Although the 95LX calculator function was missing some 19B's financial functions, I found that the power and flexibility of Solver more than made up for it. Now all I had to do was reconcile in my mind the price difference.

I went back to the store to check out the Casio BOSS, Sharp Wizard, and the rest of the pocket organizers. I added up the price of all the accessory cards needed to make one of these machines match the features of the 95LX. With a Lotus 1-2-3 and communications card, extra memory, and other add-ins, the best alternative palmtop cost about $1,000. So for about $400 less, I bought the 95LX and got all these features, and more. I returned the 19B and spent the weekend reading the manual and learning the 95LX.

More Bang for the Buck

As it turns out, I'm using the 95LX more than I ever expected. I use the appointment book with WEEKABK to schedule all my classes and assignments. I use HP CALC with Solver and Lotus 1-2-3 for math, finance, statistics, and management science classes. I use MEMO for quick notes, VDE for editing large Solver (.EQN) files, and PHONE for a number of database applications. I use DC95 and DCS95 from the HP Connectivity Kit to transfer files to and from my Desktop PC. I use Menu95 to run DOS programs like VDE and LINDO/PC (a linear equation solver). While I study or work on my desktop PC, CLOCK.EXM turns my 95LX into a large digital clock. I've even used USounds to gracefully bow out of phone conversations and get back to the books.

Solver Helps Me with Introduction to Finance

I started experimenting with Solver immediately. I entered all of the equations from my introduction to finance textbook into the Solver catalog. The more I used Solver and TVM (Time Value of Money) the better I understood the financial equations, and HP CALC.

As the course progressed, Solver became invaluable. I finally got to the point where the financial equations were too long and complex to enter into Solver, so I started experimenting with the powerful Solver/1-2-3 combination -- what a great time saver! As I tried the problems at the end of each chapter, I invariably found situations where the equations I entered didn't work as expected. I ended up spending lots of time debugging and expanding the scope of some of the equations. Without the 95LX, I would have probably spent less time studying these equations, but my understanding of them would have been less. The big payoff came at test time. My level of understanding coupled with the efficiency of the 95LX let me finish the test quickly, and spend the extra time reviewing my results for accuracy.

My library of Solver equations and .WK1 files include all of the TVM equations, including perpetuities and uniform annual series (STUDENT.ZIP ). In addition I have equations relating to stock and bond valuation, portfolio analysis, investment analysis, margin trading, capital structure and budgeting, cash flow and break-even analysis, ratio analysis, inflation factors, depreciation, inventory analysis, Markov equations, waiting line equations, arithmetic and geometric series, matrix operations, and linear regression analysis.

Exporting Excel Spreadsheets to the Lotus .WK1 Format

Connecting the 95LX to my desktop was easy enough with the HP Connectivity Kit software (DC95 / DCS95) or the ZIP communications software. However, creating and modifying Solver equations and 1-23 spreadsheets on my desktop PC was a little trickier.

I am more comfortable with Microsoft Excel than I am with Lotus, so I create my spreadsheets in Excel and save them in the Lotus .WK1 format (in Excel, press File, Save As, and select WK1 as the File Type.) The only problem with the Excel-to-WK1 conversion is that some of Excel's functions are beyond the current repertoire of Lotus. I sometimes have to take a laborious, roundabout approach in Excel to create a worksheet that I can export to 1-2-3.

Using Alternate Characters for CALC Variables and Editing .EQN Files on My Desktop PC

I like to use shortcut names for my solver variables. The maximum length of a variable name is 15 characters. Although this is usually sufficient, I like as much information in the name as possible, since I may not use the equation for a semester or so. For example, I use the letters , , and to represent the Actual, Expected, and Initial values of a stock. (These letters are created on the 95LX by pressing (ALT)-142, (ALT)-21, and (ALT)-225. (A full list of the HP 95LX Character Set is on page E-2 of the HP 95LX User's Guide.)

PHONE Databases Keep Me Organized

I keep a list of my most frequently called numbers. For friends in my karate club, I put /karate at the end of the address field and use the Only function (press (F6)) when I want to call everyone for a club event. I create temporary databases when doing library research. I keep track of publications, titles, dates, author, and brief content notes. I use these temporary databases to help me efficiently search for a publication. I'll review the entries, delete those that don't have the information I want, and save the rest for bibliographies or future reference.

Library Research Database:  Graphic

 I have other PHONE databases, including the following:

Appointment Book a Life Saver

APPT helps me juggle a heavy schedule. APPT tracks and reminds me of study time, karate workouts, homework assignment due dates, and between-term projects. I use the to-do list to prioritize homework and make sure that I meet deadlines for student loan applications. I list a short description of the task, followed by a due date as shown below.

Appointment ToDo List:  Graphic

 In this example, Invest Mgt Final 8/5 is a first priority item, and has an attached note reading, Covers chapters 9-14 + handouts. I take the information right off the course syllabus and enter each item one week prior to the due date. I then copy the information to the Daily Schedule section of APPT, coincident with the actual due date. As additional homework is assigned, I add the information to the list and schedule.

I add groceries and other needed supplies to the to-do list one item at a time, with a priority of 9. That way, I don't forget anything and the items are out of the way of more important tasks. A list of between-term projects accumulates over the term in the 3rd - 8th priority positions. These items include things I have to fix, books I want to read, movies I want to see, friends I want to visit, etc.

I use the Yearly Repeat feature to track friends' and family birthdays and anniversaries. Weekly Repeat helps me with my karate, since I workout on different campuses and at different times throughout the week. I press (MENU) Settings Timeline Appts-Only Quit so that all of my appointments are visible on a single screen. I set my alarms for a couple of hours prior to a pending appointment, to give me some warning in case I've forgotten about it. Lastly, I use WEEKABK with APPT for week-at-a-glance planning.

Appointment Book Daily Screen:  Graphic

 I wish APPT could magically add time to my term breaks. Fortunately its ability to prioritize and make sure important tasks don't fall through the cracks saves me plenty of real time and headaches.

MEMO and VDE for Note Taking

I mentioned earlier that I use VDE to edit Solver's .EQN files. VDE is a full-featured word processor, suitable for most applications. I would like to see a System-Manager compliant version made available. (Editor's Note: fastWRITE, a SWITCHable version of VDE is now available from ACE Technologies, see page 51 this issue.) I still use MEMO for taking short notes. I use VDE for taking longer notes, and for creating lengthy outlines to be expanded later into a paper.

I have created a few MEMO files that I refer to often. One of them is ASCII.TXT , a complete listing of the 95LX character set along with the ALT-key combinations needed to create the character. ASCII.TXT also includes separate listings for the special characters I use in Solver along with the description of what they mean. I also have a MEMO file called SPCLTRNG.TXT that I use as a packing checklist. I consult this when packing for my karate special training trips around the country.

Experiences in Graduate School

The preceding portion of this article was written while I was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. I have since entered Carnegie Mellon's Graduate School of Industrial Administration. I found better ways to track assignments over each of GSIA's seven week mini-semesters.

I now use PHONE to track assignments and my schedule. I dropped WEEKABK because I needed to see a detailed week at a glance. The ToDo list no longer tracks homework, tests, or any other academic events. It is reserved for reminders about things like tuition bills, changing batteries, and the things I try to cram into the short break between semesters. The Appointment Book is reserved for group meetings, interview times, and birthdays. PHONE takes care of the rest.

In HOMEWORK.PBK, I use the Name field for the date, day and class. I also use one record to separate and number the weeks remaining in the semester. Since PHONE sorts the Name field information, as new tasks are added they are automatically sorted by date due.

The Number field is used for the assignment detail (i.e. "Midterm" or "Case 3 due"). The Address field contains the details of the assignment (i.e. "test covers chapters 1-16"). As the weeks progress, I delete each task as it is completed. This approach usually gives me two full weeks of detailed schedule information on one screen.

Conclusion: The 95LX is a Must for Serious Students

The 95LX goes with me everywhere and has helped maintain order in my hectic life. I do spend some time studying and programming business functions into Solver and 1-2-3, but the 95LX has freed up time elsewhere with its scheduling functions.

Stress levels during math-intensive tests have been reduced considerably. After all of these years doing arithmetic grunt work, I'm glad to see a machine that reduces the work to a combination of study, understanding, and simple data entry. At last I don't have to keep proving to the world that I know how to add and multiply.

My desk is now free of the hundreds of little post-it notes that I used to shuffle and lose in the process of trying to keep on top of things. I now have quick access to phone numbers anywhere I am. The 95LX unloads some of the clutter in my head, and makes more room there for effective study.

The 95LX should be considered as one of the necessities of student life. You pay your tuition and buy your books, 95LX, etc. Familiarity with financial calculators and powerful business tools like Lotus 1-2-3 is already expected of students in many professional programs. Student life is a time where your total focus is learning. You might as well spend some of your time learning to use the HP 95LX, one of the most useful business tools I've ever seen.