Early “Computer Kit” Really Just A Fancy Calculator

We’re big fans of calculators, computers and vintage magazines, so when we see something at the intersection of all three we always take a look. Back in 1966, Electronics Illustrated included instructions in their November issue on building, in their words, a “Space-Age Decimal Computer!” using neon lamps, a couple of tubes, and lots of soldering. The article starts on page 39 and it’s made fairly clear that it will be an expensive and complicated project, but you will be paid back many times over by the use and experience you will get!

Our modern idea of a computer differs greatly from the definitions used in the past. As many readers likely know, “Computer” was actually a job title for a long time. The job of a computer was to sit with pen, paper, and later on electromechanical devices, and compute and tabulate long lists of numbers. Imagine doing payroll for large companies completely by hand, every month. The opportunity for errors was large and was just part of doing business. As analog and later transistor-based computers started to be developed, they replaced the jobs of human computers in calculating and tabulating numbers. This is why IBM was originally called the Computing, Recording and Tabulating Company!

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End Of An Era: Popular Science Shutters Magazine

Just three years after the iconic magazine abandoned its print version and went all-digital, Popular Science is now halting its subscription service entirely. The brand itself will live on — their site will still run tech stories and news articles, and they have two podcasts that will keep getting new episodes — but no more quarterly releases. While you can’t complain too much about a 151 year run, it’s still sad to see what was once such an influential publication slowly become just another cog in the content mill.

Started as a monthly magazine all the way back in 1872, Popular Science offered a hopeful vision of what was over the horizon. It didn’t present a fanciful version of what the next 100 years would look like, but rather, tried to read the tea leaves of cutting edge technology to offer a glimpse of what the next decade or so might hold. Flip through a few issues from the 1950s and 60s, and you won’t see pulpy stories about humanity conquering the stars or building a time machine. Instead the editors got readers ready for a day when they’d drive cars with warbird-derived turbochargers, and enjoy more powerful tools once transistor technology allowed for widespread use of small brushless motors. It wasn’t just armchair engineering either, issues would often include articles written by the engineers and researchers that were on the front lines. Continue reading “End Of An Era: Popular Science Shutters Magazine”

Farewell American Computer Magazines

I grew up in a small town with a small library. The next town over had what I thought at the time was a big library, but it was actually more like my town had a tiny library, and the next one over had an actual small library. When I left to go to University, I found out what a real library looked like, and I was mesmerized. Books! Lots of books, many of them written in the current decade. My grades probably suffered from the amount of time I spent in the library reading things that didn’t directly relate to my classes. But there was one thing I found that would turn out to be life-changing: A real computer magazine. Last month, Harry McCracken pointed out that the last two widely-distributed American consumer computer magazines ceased paper publication. It is the end of an era, although honestly, it is more like a comatose patient expiring than a shocking and sudden demise.

Dr. Dobb’s first issue was far from the slick commercial magazine it would become.

Actually, before I had gone to college, I did have a subscription to Kilobaud, and I still have some copies of those. No offense to Wayne Green, but Kilobaud wasn’t that inspiring. It was more an extension of his magazine “73”, and while I enjoyed it, it didn’t get me dreaming. Dr. Dobb’s Journal — the magazine I found in the stacks of my University’s library — was tangibly different. There was an undertone of changing the world. We weren’t sure why yet, but we knew that soon, everyone would have a computer. Maybe they’d balance their checkbook or store recipes. A few people already saw the potential of digital music reproduction, although, I must admit, it was so poor at the time, I couldn’t imagine who would ever care.

I say it was life-changing to discover the few issues of Dr. Dobb’s that were published back then because I would go on to contribute to Dr. Dobb’s throughout its storied history. I wrote the infamous DOS extender series, produced special issues, and, when it went mostly digital, was the embedded system blogger for them for more years than I care to admit. In fact, I have the dubious distinction of having the final blog posted; although the website has suffered enough bit rot, I’m not sure any of it has survived other than, maybe, on the Wayback machine. While I wasn’t with the magazine for its entire 38-year run, I read it for at least 35 and had some function there for about 24 of those.

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Cutting Paper And Corners In Animation

Cutting every corner can lead to some shoddy projects, but [Terry Gilliam] shows us that cutting the right corners yields unforgettable animations when mixed with the right amount of quirky imagination. The signature animation style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a mixture of [Terry]’s artistic craft and doing it with as little work as possible. You can watch after the break.

For [Terry], cutout animation is the quickest and easiest way he knows to convey an idea, a joke, or a story. With his vocal repertoire, even the sound effects can be produced in a basement studio. Sometimes, he makes the artwork himself and sometimes he relies on found-media in magazines or print. Both of these resources have vast digital counterparts for the betterment or detriment of animators.

Cutout animations have limitations such as jerky movement and the signature paper-on-a-background look, but that didn’t stop South Park. Textures and gradients can be used, unlike traditional animation which leverages a simplified color palette so you can pick your poison.

If your story or idea is held back because it can’t be expressed, maybe it needs a cutout animation kick in the right direction, and it couldn’t hurt to illustrate your 2018 Hackaday Prize submissions. At the opposite end of the tech spectrum, we have an animation made with 3D printed objects.

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Full-Auto Crossbow Rocks And Rolls On Rubber Bands And Electric Drill

You’ve got to enjoy any project where the hacker clearly loves what he or she is doing. And when the project is as cool as a motor-driven, rubber band powered, fully automatic crossbow, it’s hard not to laugh along.

A full-auto crossbow is no mean feat, and it took a man with a love for rubber-powered firearms to get it right. [JoergSprave]’s design is based on a rack-and-pinion system and executed mainly in plywood. The main pinion gear is a composite of aluminum and wood, in a bid to increase the life of the mechanism and to properly deal with the forces involved. The pinion, turned by a powerful electric drill, drives the rack back and locks the carrier under the 30-bolt magazine. A rubber-powered follower forces a bolt down and a cam on the pinion trips the sear, the bolt is fired and the cycle continues.

We slowed the video down a bit and it looked to us like the cyclical rate of fire was about 7 rounds per second, or a respectable 420 rounds per minute. Pretty powerful, too, and the accuracy isn’t bad either.

We’ve seen [Joerg]’s inventions before, like this soda bottle Gatling arrow launcher, or his ridiculous machete launcher. We hope he keeps having fun and letting us watch.

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First Edition Of German Computer Mag Is A Blast From The Past

Every once in a while we get nostalgic for the old days of computing. Here, we’re getting nostalgic for a past that wasn’t even our own, but will probably bring a smile to all the German hackers out there. c’t magazine has its first issue available on their website (PDF, via FTP), and it’s worth checking out even if you can’t read a word of German.

ct-adIt’s dated November/December 1983, and you’re definitely hopping in the WABAC machine here. The cover image is a terminal computer project that you’re encouraged to build for yourself, and the magazine is filled with those characteristic early-computer-era ads, many of them for the physical keyboards that you’d need to make such a device. Later on, c’t would provide plans for a complete DIY PC with plotter, one of which we saw still running at the 2015 Berlin Vintage Computer Festival.

The issue is chock-full of code for you to type out into your own computer at home. If you didn’t have a computer, there are of course reviews of all of the popular models of the day; the TRS-80 Model 100 gets good marks. And if you need to buy a BASIC interpreter, there’s an article comparing Microsoft’s MBASIC with CBM’s CBASIC. A battle royale!

ct_mag_computer_bandOther hot topics include modifications to make your ZX81’s video output sharper, the hassle of having to insert a coded dongle into your computer to run some software (an early anti-piracy method), and even a computer-music band that had (at least) a Commodore 64 and a CBM machine in their groovy arsenal.

It’s no secret that we like old computers, and their associated magazines. Whether you prefer your PDP-11’s physical or virtual, we’ve got you covered here. And if your nostalgia leans more Anglophone, check out this Byte magazine cover re-shoot.

Vintage Electronics Magazines Predicted Our Current Future

Do you remember the magazine Popular Electronics? What about Radio Electronics? These magazines were often the first exposure we had to the world of hacking. In December we learned that Americanradiohistory.com has gone to the trouble of scanning nearly every copy of both, and continues to add many many others — posting them online for us to enjoy once more. Since then we’ve been pouring through the archive pulling out some of the best in terms of nostalgia, entertainment, and fascinating engineering.

Yes much of this material is very dated; CB Radios, all-mighty computers, phasors, stun guns, levitating machines, overly complex circuits for simple tasks, and aviator eyeglasses. But found among all of this, many innovative mixed-signal circuits and other interesting ideas that have been developed into our tech-centric world. Many of those modern inventions you’ve welcomed into your life actually started long-long ago in the forward-thinking hacks shown off in these publications. The Google Glass precursor seen above is but one example. Keep reading to see the early roots of the tech we tend to think of as “new”.

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