A post from Shady Characters

Win a copy of Empire of the Sum!

This is your chance to win one of two free copies of Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator! To enter, leave a comment on this post with a valid email address so that I can contact you in the event that you win.

The sun rises behind a pocket calculator, whose display reads "07734"
The cover of Empire of the Sum.

One caveat: this first round is for US residents only. There will be another round for US residents after US publication and two rounds for non-US residents closer to publication time in the rest of the world. To make sure you don’t miss those future contests, you might want to subscribe to the Shady Characters newsletter using the link at the bottom of the page.

The con­test will close at noon UK time on Sunday 20th Au­gust 2023, so make sure you enter be­fore then. After that I’ll pick two win­ners from the list of all unique entrants, and I’ll get in touch to arrange free postage of your prize. See below for terms and conditions, and good luck!

Update: The competition is now closed! I’ll announce the winners soon.

Terms and conditions

  • The competition is open only to US residents.
  • The prizes are two copies of the US edition of Empire of the Sum: The Rise and Reign of the Pocket Calculator, with one copy awarded per winner.
  • Entry is via the comment section on this post only. Entries via Twitter, Facebook, email or other platforms will not count.
  • One entry per entrant only.
  • Entrants must provide a valid email address.
  • Entrants must provide a name or pseudonym for publication in the event that they win.
  • The competition will close at noon UK time on Sunday 20th Au­gust 2023.
  • The winners will be announced here at shadycharacters.co.uk within thirty days of the close of the competition.

43 comments on “Win a copy of Empire of the Sum!

  1. Comment posted by Mark Frankel on

    Looks wonderful and if it’s anything like Shady Characters, it will be an engrossing read!

  2. Comment posted by Gary McCormick on

    The beginning of my engineering education coincided with the availability of the first affordable scientific calculators. No more slip sticks!

  3. Comment posted by Eric R on

    Anyone who has calculator collection should have this book. hint hint

  4. Comment posted by Katherine Skidmore on

    If not for my TI-81, I’d have been for I’d have been fired by now.*

    * I am a high school English teacher. Seriously.

  5. Comment posted by Brian on

    Looking forward to the book! By the way, seen any interesting interrobangs recently?

  6. Comment posted by Joyce Westner on

    Sounds pretty shady⁉️

  7. Comment posted by Bob Huba on

    The history of the pocket calculator is basically the history I lived. This book will be a “walk down memory lane” for me. My first pocket calculator was actually a round slide rule though.

    I graduated as an engineer just as the first inexpensive TI electronic calculators came out. If you call $120 in 1973 inexpensive. I held out for the version with a square root button. Made life way easier.

    I discovered that having used the slide rule really was helpful as it made you think about where the decimal place should be. It was easier to spot errors when using the calculator.

    Calculators certainly improved life. I do see a downside that nobody seems to be able to do math in their heads anymore.

    Looking forward to reliving these time while reading this book.

    Thanks for the memories.

    1. Comment posted by H on

      Very excited to read this one!

  8. Comment posted by Fred on

    I wonder how you prevent people from entering with multiple of their accounts?

    1. Comment posted by Ty Rickers on

      My son loves carrying around a pocket calculator he found at my in-laws, so it would be great to tell him how it came about! Can’t wait!

    2. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      My son did the same! The calculator he played with as a toddler functioned as a sort of catch-all faux mobile phone, remote control, and handheld computer.

  9. Comment posted by Olaf Heimburger on

    Who is faster? A pocket calculator or an abacus?

  10. Comment posted by Lee Littlewood on

    Calculator vs. abacus is an interesting question. I presume the time would be used in inputting the original numbers and then reading out the final product – the calculator is very fast in computing, and the abacus shows the final result directly. (?)

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      In the book I write about a competition between an abacus user and a calculator user that took place in Japan, just after the second world war. The abacus won!

      Nowadays, I suspect calculators would win in most cases — the exceptions being where an expert abacus user is involved.

  11. Comment posted by Peeter on

    Looking forward to reading it!

  12. Comment posted by Jordan C on

    After Shady Characters and The Book, I’d read anything of yours!

  13. Comment posted by Jim Lukens-Gable on

    This post brought back 1970s memories of using my Texas Instrument calculator bought from Radio Shack; looking forward to your book!

  14. Comment posted by Ethan G on

    Looking forward to this book!

  15. Comment posted by Paul Hoffman on

    I’ll be interested to see what is considered “pocket”, given that they went from large to small over time.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      It certainly varied! The first “pocket” calculators implied very large pockets, but they got smaller very quickly. Fairly soon, credit card-sized calculators were not uncommon.

  16. Comment posted by Kevin V. on

    We weren’t allowed to download games on our graphing calculators in high school. This book will be an invaluable research tool for my strongly worded letter in defense of playing ‘Snake’ in calculus class.

  17. Comment posted by Steve Minniear on

    I am so looking forward to this book. And thanks for the opportunity to get a free copy.

  18. Comment posted by Mary Ann Atwood on

    My brother was so proud of his first Hewlett-Packard calculator purchased in 1968/9. With a $100.00 price tag it could actually add, subtract, multiply and divide! Oh, the times they are a changing;-)

  19. Comment posted by Steve Minniear on

    In my freshman year of high school one science instructor insisted we learn how to use the slide rule. He said it would be an indispensable tool throughout our lives. Now they can only be found in antique stores and museums.

  20. Comment posted by Keith Ewing on

    I first learned to calculate using a slide rule (I still have my US Air Force Aerial Photo Slide Rule Type A-1); for a while I even had a pocket-sized slide rule. I had an abacus, but never developed any competence. The first electronic calculator I used was at my mother’s office in the mid-1960s, a Sharp Compet — it seemed like a miracle. But my first “pocket” calculator was a Texas Instruments SR-10, an outrageous expenditure when I graduated from college with a humanities degree.

    1. Comment posted by Mary Ann Atwood on

      I never did master the slide rule! Oh the good old days when making a phone call took more then a few seconds…

  21. Comment posted by Carl Johnson on

    It all went wrong when we abandoned the slide rule…

  22. Comment posted by Dan G. on

    I loved my TI-30 and my programmable TI back in high school!

  23. Comment posted by John W Stuart on

    03774, I remember my family’s first electronic calculator. It had a button for showing what was on the right of the decimal place.
    Eventually I progressed to an HP-28S that got me through my Physics undergraduate degree using RPN. They high point was programming it to calculate orbital parameters for my Celestial Mechanics class.

    1. Comment posted by John W Stuart on

      I mean, 07734.

  24. Comment posted by Amie Norris on

    This looks like an interesting read, even for someone who very much prefers words and sentences over numbers and equations!

  25. Comment posted by Michael Gora on

    I still have my first Texas Instruments pocket calculator somewhere, although I later quickly moved to HP calculators with RPN (Reverse Polish Notation).

    1. Comment posted by Mary Ann Atwood on

      Being a second generation American, and a proud Polish person, I always rather enjoyed that phrase, RPN, as did my grand old Dad, first generation. Thanks for the memories;-)

  26. Comment posted by Robert Leone on

    I 《strong》STILL《/strong》have my slide rule. But I prefer my calculators.

  27. Comment posted by Roslyn Dy on

    Looks like a great book! I cannot wait for it to come out so I can order one for myself as well give copy to a math teacher friend for his birthday. I mean, how appropriate is that?!

  28. Comment posted by Kevin Scholtes on

    The history of the pilcrow in Shady Characters inspired me to write a science fiction story. The Book inspired me to take up bookbinding as a hobby. I am giddy to discover what Empire of the Sum will inspire!

    By the way, there is a delightful video game on Steam called Type:Rider. The user plays as a colon racing through a landscape of historical typography. Give it a try.

    1. Comment posted by Keith Houston on

      This is amazing, Kevin. Thank you for reading my books!

  29. Comment posted by Walter Underwood on

    Great title!

  30. Comment posted by Ian Miller on

    my first calculator was the Sinclair Cambridge which was very unreliable. I replaced it was a Casio Scientific calculator which was much better.

  31. Comment posted by Christopher Taylor-Davies on

    My HP-41c was my gateway to a career in computing. I don’t have it any more, alas.

  32. Comment posted by mirabilos on

    This sounds like an interesting read, perhaps to accompany a visit to the Arithmeum (museum of calculation, manual and machines) in Bonn. So please do consider me ;)

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