Name That Thing


[Alan] over at has been doing a “Name the Thing” contest where he occasionally posts an image and people try to figure out what it is. We’ve seen similar posts on some other web sites too. We usually don’t post them here because they’re not only not a hack, they’re usually not even projects. This one, however, caught our eye.

We apologize for posting this, without telling you what it is. The simplest explanation is that curiosity is getting the best of us. We were hoping that you guys could help out. What is this thing? Can we have two?

55 thoughts on “Name That Thing

  1. Ah, looking at the detail photos it could go as early as 1960; that circuit board they isolate is solid-state but doesn’t use IC’s. But it is definitely a programmable calc; that circuit board appears to be a small amount of core memory.

  2. It doesn’t look much like the enigma machine. (Yes, I’m aware that it’s been identified above)

    The same picture is published in “The Codebreakers” by David Kahn which is mostly a history of encryption, but there are enough examples of actual encryption in there to learn from (like how to break some simple monoalphabetic and polyalphabetic ciphers).

    The book is actually quite old but it’s still being published. It’s a thick tome and absolutely fascinating. I recommend the book because of its value to hack-minded individuals.

  3. Ah; I thought the mspaint spray that blacked out the obvious giveaway (keypad) was actually part of the device – like some black fuzz or something.

    Would have been way easier to blind guess if that was pointed out in advance… not that there was any problem figuring this one out…

  4. As someone who knows very little about electronic components, I must say that I am impressed with they general level of knowledge displayed regularly by you folks.

    It’s always enlightening to read the comments here.


  5. IMHO you should have waited until the contest was over to satisfy your curiosity … you’re ruing the whole idea of that contest.

    But nice thing, never seen it seen it was out of date way before i started to play with electronics … :)

  6. As others have pointed out, it most definitely is a Casio AL-1000. You don’t need to know anything about what one of those is. All you need is the ability to compare the photo at the top of this post with the third photo on this page, which has already been linked to in earlier replies

    “Guess the thing” competitions are only good if they’re photos of actual stuff the person setting the competition has, rather than random stuff found on the web.

  7. 14 Nixies! And I’ll bet they still work, too. Magnetic core is nice to work with too.

    I had the innards out of a calculating scale that looked quite similar, but I doubt it would be S-100 as most of these manufacturers used in-house arrangements.

    HP once made a similar desktop mini-computer like this that would still rip the trunk off a large elephant, weight and capability.

  8. i should have looked here before i entered the contest. since it has 14 nixie tubes i thought it was one of the old airport arrival/departure signs. although airport signs were alphanumeric. oh well, i’ll just have to enter the next contest that offers credit at adafruit.

  9. Yea the magnetic core memory is bad ass. stroboscopic display is also bad ass. The immense efforts it must have took to make theses machines back then. The AL-1000 must have cost a lot back then. “The portable 27lb calculator”

  10. well since we know know what it happens to be. i still want to guess. is it the remote control for sputnik? Farnsworth doomsday device type 3? Polish cell phone circa 1955? Canadian easy bake oven? Iranian magnatron circa 2007? or my personal favorite, prototype for one laptop per child winner?

  11. It is an old machine to scan rats. The rat would be placed on the metal pad. The cables underneath it would send electronic impulses through the rat’s body to scan it. This would make it possible to find out what diseases it might carry and if it ate your cheese. When all the little light bulbs had gone off, the process would be completed. The photo-scan would then remain impressed on the red slides at the back, which was handy for they could be ket in a folder for future reference on the rat’s health. Unfortunately, as a side effect the machine would fry the rat, as the picture shows. So it quickly fell into disuse.

  12. magnetic core memory is cool. It just takes up too much space. It was used to store data for the moon missions computers. They wired in the bits because things like eprom were not available. If the wire passed through a core it was a 1 , no core a 0 and the entire program the computers ran were encoded that way.

    Now imagine when you find a program error and have to rewire several thousand wires :)

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.