Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Yet another LONG overdue post

July 17, 2014

Greetings to all,

With as long as it has been since I’ve posted here, many might think that I’ve fallen off the face of the earth. I’ve also not posted much on the Old Calculator Museum website, which may further add to such speculation. This posting is to say I’m still around, and have been preoccupied by a lot of other stuff in my life that has consumed the vast majority of my time.

I am getting along OK. A lot has gone down over the past couple of years, some of which is not all that great, but it is what it is, and I’m working through the challenges. But, I’m not going to bore my readers with that stuff. The important stuff is old calculators. And, there has been some stuff going on there that is exciting.

The coolest thing is that just two days ago, the museum took delivery of an amazing new addition to the museum. I have been searching for one of these machines for many, many years, and finally, one now makes its home here. The machine is a Wyle Laboratories WS-02 Scientific. I’m extremely excited about this addition, as this is a very uncommon, and also somewhat historical machine due to what its development spawned.

For those that aren’t aware of the story, there is an essay on the Old Calculator Museum website entitled The History of Compucorp that goes into a lot of detail of how Computer Design Corporation was spawned from Wyle Laboratories.

The Wyle WS-02 is the second (and last) generation of Wyle Labs’ calculators. Functionally, the earlier WS-01 is identical to the WS-02, with the difference being the medium used to store the working registers of the calculator. The WS-01 uses a small fixed-head magnetic disk, not unlike the disk drives in computers today, but storing on a tiny fraction of the amount of data that today’s disk drives (or even disk drives of computers in the 1960’s) hold. The disk drive proved to be rather temperamental which led to a lot of problems with WS-01 calculators sold to customers. As a result of the difficulties, the calculator engineering team did some redesign of the WS-01 to utilize a magnetostrictive delay line (a loop of special wire through with torque pulses representing ones and zeroes travel through the wire at sonic speeds resulting in a time delay, or storing of the bits in the wire as they circulate through) to replace the disk drive. The resulting machine was the WS-02.

The museum received the WS-02 calculator in amazingly good physical condition. The main issue is oxidation of the plastic keycaps on the keyboard, which makes a white film over the keycap that makes reading the legends on the keys somewhat difficult. It is expected that this will be able to be remedied, but care must be exercised to make sure that the legends aren’t damaged or the structure of the keycaps is not compromised in the process. Also included in the acquisition was the model PC-01 punched card reader, that plugs into the WS-02 calculator to provide keystroke programming, via codes punched into special cards. The card reader appears to be in good condition physically. Along with the calculator and punched card reader, two original manuals for the machine were included, which is amazing, as documentation is usually lost with time.

The machine was originally purchased sometime in the mid-1960’s by a company that was involved in land development, surveying, and construction. The calculator was used to perform surveying and construction calculations. It is not entirely clear, but the WS-02 and PC-01 may have been part of what is called a WSS-5 or WSS-10 system. The WSS stood for Wyle Scientific System, which was a small desk, with a compartment with electronics in it that the calculator and punched card connected to that provided additional storage registers (8, 16, or 24 registers) and patch boards that could be wired with program steps. If the WSS-5 or WSS-10 was part of the system, it was not retained. The company used the machine as part of its operations until sometime in the early 1970’s, at which time the company suffered tough times, and ended up closing. When the offices were being cleaned out, one of the employees saw the calculator sitting out on a table (which may have been the WSS-5/WSS-10), waiting to be thrown out. He asked his management if he could take the machine, as he thought that it was kind of cool. His manager said that it was fine to take it, and he took it home, and stored it away in his basement. The machine was in full operating condition when it was put away in the basement. The machine remained there all these years.

In early May of this year, I received an EMail from the owner of the machine, saying that he had pulled the calculator out of his basement, and did an Internet search on it, and found the Old Calculator Museum’s WANTED  page for the Wyle WS-01/WS-02 calculators. The EMail asked if the museum would be interested in acquiring his machine, as it was unlikely that he would be doing anything with it, and felt that it should go to a place where it would be preserved and documented. Over the following weeks, and agreement was made, and in early July, the machine was packed up and shipped from Rhode Island. The machine arrived at the museum on July 15th, in an amazing custom-built crate that the owner crafted to assure safe transit for the machine.

The machine made the trip with no problems at all. The packing was incredible, and essentially the crate could have likely survived a drop off the back of a truck with no ill effect to the calculator.

Now begins a slow and methodical process of checking out the electronics in the machine to assure that things like power supply capacitors, edge connector sockets, and wiring harnesses are all in good condition, and if any faults are found, properly repaired. It will likely be some time before the machine will be ready to attempt to power up, but it is hoped that it will be able to be made fully operational.

Of course, a detailed exhibit for the calculator will be created for inclusion in the Old Calculator Museum website.

On other calculator-related topics:

– The Monroe EPIC-3000 calculator that was written about in old postings here has been restored to full operation. It is in the process of being documented for its exhibit in the museum. It is quite exciting to have this calculator working fully, as it is very much a hybrid of electromechanical and electronic technology, and the mechanical aspects of machines like this can be quite difficult to diagnose and repair.

– The museum received a donation of a huge amount of old Friden parts and documentation. Included in the lot was a large number of copies of Friden’s internal magazine, Friden News, which I’ve only begun browsing through and have discovered a lot of very interesting historical information, including introduction dates of Friden calculators, as well as stories about the development and early sales of Friden’s first electronic calculator, the EC-130. There is also a lot of information about Friden’s other products, including the Computypers (small-office billing machines/computers), Flexowriters, Punched tape equipment, Postage Equipment, and in later editions, information about Friden’s computer system, the System 10.

– A number of calculator donations and acquisitions have come in: Addo-X 9958 (essentially a Sharp Compet 32 in beautiful condition), Bohn Omnitrex 12, a Master H-2, a Wang 370 Programmer (fully operational after minor repair work), a Monroe EPIC-2000 (needs some work), and an Wang 360SE that needs some power-supply work. It is just a matter of time until I can get these documented and up on the museum website.

I wish all those who read this posting the best of everything.

06-Sep-2011: A long overdue update

September 6, 2011

Hello, all,

I hope that this post finds the folks that visit this blog are doing well.

It has been a long time since I have posted here. Quite a lot has gone on over the past year or so..a quick overview

On the new calculator front, New Acquisitions:

  • Monroe 820A(non-working), thanks to a generous donor,  to go along with the Monroe 820 that the museum already has (also non-working).  I am hoping that between the two of them I can get one working. This is the only CRT-display-based machine that Monroe made, and it is quite uncommon.
  • A Monroe EPIC 3000 (in very nice shape, and mostly working), and a Monroe EPIC 2000 with some mechanical and electronic problems.  In time I hope to get the EPIC 3000 completely working…it seems like the problem is just a bad connection in the cable that connects the keyboard/printer unit to the electronics package.
  • A Sharp Compet 21(CS-21A).  This is an extremely rare machine that looks identical to the Sharp Compet 20, but with electronics changes that allow it to perform square root.  The machine calculates square roots to five digits behind the decimal. The machine has problems, but I am hopeful that they can be figured out and repaired.  It tries to run, but gets very confused when asked to perform operations.  The design of the machine is very similar to the Compet 20, with some boards identical between the two, but there are definitely changes to the PP board (Program Package) that contain the sequencing logic for the machine, and addition of three unique boards, one of which appears to be a diode ROM that perhaps provides sequencing logic for the square root function, along with a significantly different keyboard interface board that probably detects the “divide followed by +=” key sequence that triggers the square root operation.
  • A Sharp Compet 32 that will shortly be on its way to the museum.
  • An additional Sharp Compet 20 that is a bit earlier than the one currently in the museum, which will be arriving soon.

Because of all that has been going on, updates to the Old Calculator Museum website have slowed to a trickle.  I have a large backlog of exhibits to create, and quite a number to update.  I also have more materials to add to the advertising archive, and some technical information to add.   The biggest enemy I have right now is time.

My job is keeping me very busy. The University started fall session classes last week, and things are really hopping with over 3500 students now making demands of the computing environment, which we did a huge amount of work on over the summer. Along with work, during the summer months, there are constant projects around the property that demand time, along with my wife’s dog agility competitions that consume time on weekends.

I must veer off-topic for a moment. We have a German Shepherd that is competing at the top national levels of competition in dog agility, and this year has been extremely successful.  Tory (our German Shepherd) and my wife, Patty, have earned entry into three National Championship competitions this fall and early next year, including the German Shepherd Dog Club of America Nationals, the AKC National, and the USDAA National.  We’ll be traveling to Kansas, Kentucy, and Nevada for these competitions, and hopefully, come home with some national championships.  German Shepherds are very uncommon to run at the national level in a sport dominated by Border Collies and Australian Shepherds.  It is a huge testimony to the athletic abilities and high level of intelligence that Tory has, and Patty’s dedication to excellence in training (both for herself, and Tory) over Tory’s 5 years of life.  You can see YouTube videos of Patty and Tory in action by checking out the channel “pattybffds”.  Just search for it on YouTube.

Once the fall and winter settle in, there will be more time to devote to my calculator passion, and I expect that there’ll be a more updates both to this blog, as well as to the museum website.

Lastly, before I close out, I am honored to be invited to a gathering of ex-Friden employees (known as Fridenites) in San Leandro, California (the original headquarters of Friden Calculating Machine Co.) on September 15th.  This luncheon gathering will have many luminaries from the heyday of Friden, including Robert Ragen (the chief designer of the Friden EC-130), Dick Ahrens (a senior engineer involved in the design of the EC-130), George Comstock (another senior engineer, who left Friden to form Diablo Systems, a company famous for the development of daisywheel printer technology), and many other former Friden employees.  This should be a fun and fascinating time.  I will try to write up a blog entry about the event soon after I return.

With all that said, I will call this entry complete.  There’s a lot more that I didn’t write about, but that captures the high points.   Wishing you all health (the most important thing), happiness, safety and security!

29-May-10: Jobfulness Thoughts, and a Recent Donation

May 30, 2010

It has been a long time since I’ve posted here – seven months. My aologies for taking so long. Time for calculator pursuits has been very limited lately. That’s a good thing, in that it means that I’ve been busy with other things, namely, my work, which is a blessing after having been unemployed for a long time.

It is coming up on a year being re-employed, and while it has it’s ups and downs, just like any job, it is so good to have one, especially in these times. For that, I am very thankful. It does mean that I have much less time to spend on the calculators, which can be frustrating at times simply because I really enjoy working on and documenting these relics. Being unemployed was great from the standpoint of time, but always has the gotcha of a bad money supply. When working, money supply is less of an issue, but, there goes the time. It is what it is, and trying to balance things out is all one can do.

A few weeks ago, I had the extreme fortune to go pick up a treasure trove of old calculator equipment from a friend whom I’ve known for quite a few years. I came to know Gary Laroff when I started working for a local company that was in the process of spinning out of Tektronix in the mid-1990’s. Gary worked in the Marketing department of this company. As I came to know Gary, I learned that he had worked for Tektronix for many years, and in the early ’70’s, had been part of Tek’s calculator division, working in Technical Marketing. Of course, I was always pestering Gary for information about his times in the Calculator Division, and Gary was always willing to take time to chat.

During the time at the spinoff compay, I learned that Gary had written the field sales documentation for the Tek Model 21 and 31 calculators, as well as a bunch of other materials that were used in the technical marketing of Tek’s calculators and peripherals. I also learned that he had a treasured cache of old calculators and materials that he’d acquired along his travels, stashed in his attic. At the time, he had no intention of finding a new home for this stuff…it was too much a part of his history. Needless to say, over the years, I would ask from time to time what he was going to do with the stuff, and he invariably replied that maybe someday, he’d make it available to the Old Calculator Museum.

Over the years after the spinoff had been acquired by another company, and then yet another, Gary and I no longer worked for the same place. Gary eventually retired and become deeply involved with his passion of woodworking. A core group of four of us (me included) from that original Tektronix spinoff company kept in touch, and occasionally get together for an always enjoyable lunch, as well as occasionally exchange EMail about myriad topics; ranging from John Deere tractors to air compressors; auto repairs to power tools, not to mention technology and politics.

A little while back, Gary sent out an EMail to our little group (clearly targeting me) saying that he had to have his house re-roofed, and that the calculator stuff in the attic would have to be moved for the roofing to be done. He said that it was time for the calculator stuff to go, indicating that unless someone could be found that would be interested in this old stuff, that it’d go off to the recycler. Clearly, I couldn’t allow that to happen. Attangements were made for me to go over to his place (not very far from the museum) and haul the stuff off. I took my small pickup truck, expecting I’d have more than enough room to haul what he might have. Little did I know that the pickup would he packed full (including passenger compartment) before I made the trip home.

When I arrived, I got straight to work. Gary had sorted through the stuff and had it pretty well organized in the attic, along with some boxes of materials that he’d gathered together. When he opened the door to the attic, I was faced with three Tektronix Model 31 calculators (one the likes of which I’d never seen before, more on that later), a very early production Tektronix 4661 plotter with interface for the Tek 31 calculator, a Hewlett Packard 9100B with 9120A electrosensitive printer attached, an HP 9101A extended memory unit, an HP 9102A buffer box (allowing more than one peripheral to be attached to the 9100-series calculator), and an HP 9125A plotter. Along with that, there were a number of boxes of great stuff, which included a bunch of manuals (including two copies of the very rare Tek 31/31 Service Manual along with a preliminary-release copy of the same manual), a whole slew of Tek 31 magtape cartridges, a bunch of NOS custom function keyboard overlays for the Tek 31, a Tek 31/53 instrumentation interface (allows Tek 31 to connect to specific Tektronix TM-500 measurement instrumentation) and connecting cables, some NOS rolls of thermal paper for the 21/31 calculators, and various other tidbits that piqued my curiosity.

Among the curiosities included were a manual for the Cintra/Tektronix 926 Programmer for the Cintra/Tek 909 and 911 calculators. Hmm. Also found was a cable for connecting the 926 to a 909/911 calculator. Curious indeed.    When Gary was asked about these items, he commented that he had more stuff that was packed elsewhere that he needed to sort through, and that he thought there was a 926 Programer, and maybe a Tek 909, as well as a Tektronix Model 21.  I’m hopeful that there’ll be a return trip to Gary’s sometime soon to pick up these items.

The HP 9100B works beautifully, even the lamps that light up the stack register legends to the right of the CRT work.  It is in nice cosmetic condition, with just some minor signs of wear.  The 9120A printer will require some work…the platen that pulls the paper through has turned to oily goo…a malady common for synthetic rubber parts from the ’60’s and ’70’s. Electronically, the printer seems to want to work, it just has no way to move the paper.  The 9102A buffer box appears to work just fine.  The 9101A memory expander (magnetic core-based memory) also works, but not 100% — there are some memory locations that report memory protection errors even when the memory protect feature is turned off.  That’ll take some digging to figure out.

Of the three Tek 31’s, two are functional, but have display problems (very common because of the Sperry gas-discharge display modules outgassing).  One of the machines is catatonic, probably a problem with the electronics as the power supply seems fine.  One machine’s thermal printer has a drive belt for the platen that has disintegrated, but I happened to have a spare from a scrap Tek 31 that I found many years ago. I’m going to have to find a reasonably-priced source for some of the Sperry SP-322 and SP-333 display modules to bring the machines with failed displays back to full functionality. These display modules are still made by Babcock today, but are profanely expensive.

One of the Tek 31’s is very unusual, and may well be a one-of-a-kind item.  Gary explained that back in the day, he had thought that the color scheme used on the Tektronix 21/31 calculators was too “instrumentation” looking.  He believed that a different color scheme that looked more “computer-like”, might improve the ability to sell the machine as a computing device.  Tektronix was an instrumentation company first and foremost, and in spite of the fact that the Tek 31 calculator was for all intents and purposes a small computer (with alphanumeric capability, lots of memory, extensive programmability, and a large compliment of peripherals using a common peripheral bus), Tektronix never really understood the difference between selling instrumentation and computing gear.  Gary was able to convince Hiro Moriyasu, the VP of Tek’s calculator division, to give his color-scheme idea a try.  A prototype was made, essentially with a different keyboard bezel color scheme and a repaint of the cabinetry from Tek blue to a creamy tan color.   Internally, the machine was identical to a production Tek 31. This prototype machine was one of the Tek 31’s that Gary donated.  It was found to be functional, but the display modules had some problems..not all of the digits worked.  By scrounging between the other two machines Gary donated, I was able to find enough display modules that worked to get this machine 100% functional.  I intend to take some photos of it soon and update the exhibit on the Tek 31 to include it.  This color scheme makes the 31 look much more like a computing instrument than a piece of test equipment.  In my opinion, it makes the machine look less chunky, giving it a much more professional look.  According to Gary, only one of these machines was made as a proof-of-concept, but it never went into production. The serial number on the unit is “BB09”, which makes me wonder what machines made up BB01 through BB08?  Perhaps the “BB” prefix in serial numbers was designated for special builds for special purposes?  I wonder where BB01 through BB08 might be (or what fate they met), and what unique aspects they had?

The huge Tek 21/31 Service Manual is amazing. It provides insights to the design of the 21 and 31 calculators that could only be guessed at before. The exhibit on the Tek 31 has been updated recently to reflect some of the additional knowledge gained relating to the 15 chip microcoded LSI calculator chipset (manufactured by AMI as custom devices for Tektronix) used in these machines. I’ve got a lot more reading to do to mine for more details. I hope to be able to unbind one of these (they are spiral bound) and scan it, although the schematics will be difficult, as they are large fold-out sheets that will require either a larger scanner than I have, or stitching together multiple scans, which is very tedious. The manual also gives a lot of insight on the very elusive Model 21 calculator. It uses the same calculating board as the 31, with a much less-capable Programmer board. I had speculated that the 21 might be a 31 with a less capable programming unit, and that’s exactly the case. Now I just hope that Gary can find the Tek 21 that may be packed away somewhere in his home.

The two plotters (HP 9125A and Tektronix 4661) are very interesting devices. The HP unit uses servomotors rather than steppers. It’s basically an analog device with digital interface. The 4661 uses more conventional stepper motors for positioning the pen. Speaking of the pen, that’s going to be the most difficult part of getting these devices going. Does anyone out there have a clue where I might be able to find pens for these plotters? Originally, these plotters had small felt-tipped pens that snapped into the plotter’s positioner. Back in the ’70’s, it was probably not much of a problem to find pens for these plotters. Now
it is another story. The Tek 4661 came with some pens, but they are all dried out. They’re useful as models for what a pen’s form-factor should be, but that’s about it. I have no clue what the pens for the HP plotter should be. I’ve done some initial searching online for plotter pens, but can’t find anything for plotters this old. If you have suggestions, please leave a comment on this blog. I have not yet tried connecting the plotters up to their respective calculators as yet, but will be doing so soon. Hopefully they are still in operating condition.

This large donation of equipment is greatly appreciated. I wish to express my sincere thanks to Gary for his generous donation of all of this wonderful material.  As time permits, I’ll go through more of these treasures, and document what I can by updating exhibits and putting interesting tidbits of information here in the blog.

I hope to update the blog a little more frequently than once every seven months. Time will tell.

29-Oct-09: TI & Calculator Hackers

October 29, 2009

While it’s not vintage calculators at play here, I came across the following article today that is definitely interesting. There is relatively small but dedicated group of folks that have a keen interest in hacking calculators. The calculator make of choice for hacking is the TI 84+, a very capable calculator made by Texas Instruments. The article talks about a calculator hacker that figured out the keys to the encryption scheme that protects the TI 84+’s firmware from modification. Once these keys were hacked, it is possible to make changes, or even completely replace the firmware that forms the operating kernel for the calculator. Quite an amazing accomplishment.

However, Texas Instruments is not taking this at all well. The company’s legal department has sent DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) cease-and-desist letters to a number of folks who posted details and mods online for the TI 84+. In response, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) is backing the calculator hackers, stating that there is no harm in their activities since TI makes the code for the calculator available for download.

The article can be seen at: IEEE’s Spectrum Online Magazine.

Hacking calculators is not new. Back in the old days, a lot of modifications were made to calculators to augment or improve their function. In the days of mechanical adding machines, contraptions were built that used solenoids to activate keys on the keyboard to automate data entry and problem solving, with the printing action of these machines recording the results. Sometimes such modifications were used to make inexpensive numeric printers. Benson-Lehner made modifications to a Friden rotary electromechanical calculator to interface it to an electric typewriter that allowed the calculator to serve as a math unit for a system, called the Computyper, that would perform functions such as invoicing. Once electronics came on the scene, necessity being the mother of invention, all kinds of hacks were developed to allow the machines to be programmed or automated in various ways. Some calculator manufacturers would make machines that had chipsets that had more capability than the function keys on the keyboard allowed. This was done to provide a line of calculators with different functions depending on how many keys were available on the keyboard, and how the keys were wired. By rewiring keys, or adding additional keys, folks could access these additional functions. Folks also used scientific calculator chips as peripherals on early home computers to act as math co-processors.

With today’s calculators essentially being computers with LCD displays, USB and serial connectivity, flash memory for firmware storage, and lots of keys on the keyboard, it seems only natural that folks would want to customize their machines to their liking. While the author won’t condemn TI for their action, nor condone the activities of the “hackers”, it just seems to me that this making a big deal out of something that is a natural tendency of bright folks to do. Let’s hope that this all settles on its own and doesn’t result in a big waste of time and money for all parties involved.

28-Feb-09 – 1965 Friden Competitive Analysis

February 28, 2009

Recently I received an EMail from a fellow old technology afficionado in The Netherlands, Frank Philipse, who had found an interesting document in a used bookstore where he lives. The document is entitled Electronic Calculators Report 1965. It was produced by Friden International S.A., in Berg en Dal, Holland. I have not been able to find out much about Friden International, but do know that it was a wholly-owned business unit of Friden Calculating Machine Co., and remained a relatively independent arm of Friden even after Singer bought out Friden in 1963. It appears that Friden International S.A. was involved in a lot of research and development work. I do know that a lot of development work on the Friden 5005 Computyper was done in Holland, as my Godparents’ business bought a 5005 Computyper from Singer/Friden, and a bunch of custom programming was done for the particular application they had. All of the programming work was done in Holland, and while the programming was being debugged, the Friden reps would spend a lot of time on the phone to the engineers in Holland who developed the programming.

The document that Frank found was clearly intended for internal use by sales and marketing people at Friden. It was written as a competitive comparison between the Friden EC-130 and EC-132 calculators versus other electronic calculators on the market in the mid-1965 timeframe. The document is quite comprehensive in its coverage, addressing competitive machines from IME, SCM, Olympia, Casio, Dero Research, Sumlock/Anita, Victor, Sharp, Canon, Tohiba, Oi Electric, Nippon Calculating Machine Co., Monroe, Olivetti, Philips, Wanderer/Nixdorf, Mathatronics, Wang, and Wyle Laboratories.

In reading through this document, there was a lot of great information contained within, and, for the most part, the comparisons were reasonably fair. While generally the comments were resonable, I sometimes found myself shaking my head at some of the “stretches” that were made in terms of how Friden compared their machines to their competitors. It was also quite interesting how some competitive machines were addressed in great detail, while others were simply glossed over with very basic comparisons.

An example of a competitive machine that Friden spent a lot of effort to review was the comparison between the SCM Cogito 240 (Yes — there was a Cogito 240..a machine without the Square Root function, though who knows if any survive today) and Cogito 240SR. They went to great detail in explaining the architecture and operation of these machines. Then, they went about ripping the machine to shreds when comparing it to the EC-130/EC-132. It was made very clear that the Cogitos were slower, harder to use, and in the case of square root, “archaic”. It is an interesting question to ponder: Why did Friden pick on this particular machine so intensely? Was it perhaps because it used a CRT display like the Friden 130/132? It is quite clear that Friden thought that their CRT-based display was a brilliant innovation. Perhaps Friden viewed SCM’s machine as a “copy” of theirs, making it more worthy of their ire than other competitive calculators with simple Nixie-tube displays or printers?

Their comparison of the “new” IME 84 RC (RC standing for “Remote Calculator”, a follow-on to IME’s brialliantly-designed first electronic calculator, the IME 84) was interesting. The IME 84RC allowed remote keyboard/display units to be plugged into the main calculator unit. This could mean that a main calculator could service a number of remote keyboard/display units. It isn’t clear to this day if the remote keyboards could be used simultaneously (like Wang’s later 200 & 300-series SE (Simultaneous Electronics) machines). The report commented that they thought that the idea of a remote calculator was oversold by IME, and also that IME was a “small company” that likely couldn’t compete in the market. While they may have been right about IME making too big a deal out of the remote calculator capability, it’s clear that the concept in general was viable, as Wang’s Simultaneous units were quite popular sellers, especially in educational and engineering environments.

The claimed that the Dero Research Sage 1 calculator “looked like a toy”, and didn’t really give much information about the machine. The report brushed the Sage 1 off as non-competitive because they considered Dero to be an insignificant player in the market. I wish that they had given more information about the Sage 1, as there’s very little information out there about this machine, though there were some interesting morsels of information that were used to update the Old Calculator Museum “Wanted” page for this machine.

They gave the Olympia RAE 4/15 (Olympia’s first electronic calculator) a pretty good review overall, but claimed that the Friden stack-based architecture allowed problems to be solved with less keyboard operations, a fact which is true.

They made no comparison between the EC-130 and the Anita Mk 10. They simply outlined the interesting aspect of the Mk10, which was its ability to perform calculations with English currency. In this part of the document, Friden International indicated that a similar report was done in late ’64 to early ’65 that addressed the Anita Mk 8 and Mk 9 machines, so apparently it was felt that there was no need to perform a comparison with the Mk 10. The tidbit of information here is that there’s an earlier version of this document out there somewhere — hopefully it can be found.

Friden commented that the miraculous (because it used Large Scale Integration (LSI) MOS integrated circuits) Victor 3900 was technologically advanced, but more difficult to operate, and rather expensive compared to its own machines. Interestingly, they didn’t seem to hammer on the Victor 3900 like they did the Cogito 240/240SR. It’s not quite clear why Friden didn’t appear to consider the Victor machine to be a real market threat, as Victor was a major force in the calculating machine market, and had a lot of experience with building high-quality mechanical and electro-mechanical adders and calculators.

A summary of Japanese competition was given in the form of a chart that outlined basic parameters such as capacity, math capabilities, cost, etc. No real in-depth analysis was done, but they did comment that the Sharp Compet 20 (no square root) and Compet 21 (square root) were the most competitive machines amongst the Japanese offerings, though still making it clear that the Friden stack-based math architecture was superior to any of the Japanese machines. They did indicate that the massive growth in the number of players in the electronic calculator business in Japan was something to be concerned about.

Comparisons were made between various printing electronic calculators on the market at the time, including the Monroe EPIC 2000, the Olivetti Programma 101, the Philips EL-2500, and the Wanderer Conti. They pointed out that having printed output was a competitive advantage in business applications over Friden’s CRT-based calculators, but made it clear that the noise made by the printers in these machines was a definite downside as compared to the silence of Friden display calculators. The report went into reasonable detail about the Monroe EPIC 2000, pointing out (something I didn’t know) that the machine used a similar stack-based architecture to the Friden EC-130. They underplayed the programmability of the EPIC 2000 as something that most users were likely not to be able to make much use of. They had little comment on the groundbreaking Olivetti Programma 101, but pointed out that delivery times were as long as six months after an order was placed. One can imagine that the capabilities of the Programma 101 were daunting to Friden to say the least. They also complained about the keyboard action on both the Philips and Wanderer machines, saying that they were “unreliable”.

A section on “Scientific” calculators included the Mathatronics Mathatron 8-48; the Wang LOCI 1 & LOCI 2 and the initial Wang 300-series (300, 310, 320) calculators; and the Wyle Laboratories Scientific.

They commented that the Mathatron was overly complicated, and that Mathatronics was too small of a company for them to be concerned about. An interesting tidbit was learned here in that they actually evaluated a machine called the “EMD 8-48”, which was a version of the Mathatron 8-48 manufactured under license by French company Electronique Marcel Dassault. I wonder if there are any surviving examples of this machine anywhere.

They had pretty high praise for the Wang calculators, pointing out the advanced mathematics functions that these machines offered. Their competitive stance against the Wang machines was that Wang Laboratories was a small company, and likely would not be a formidable competitor. Little did they know.

There wasn’t much information given about the Wyle Scientific, but they commented that they thought this machine was a prime example of a calculator designed by a bunch of electronics engineers who didn’t have much of a clue of the practical applications for an electronic calculator. They also said that “recent developments” would soon make a machine like the Scientific obsolete (perhaps they were thinking about the Olivetti Programma 101 when they wrote this statement?).

The unearthing of old documents such as this can give some really great insights into the mindsets of those deeply involved in the business of calculating machines at the time. Especially enlightening are internal documents that are targeted toward the sales and marketing staff, because they give a lot of editorial opinion relating to the originator’s attitides regarding their competitors and their guesses on the future of the business.

I will be putting this document online in the museum soon. Watch the Old Calculator Museum Change Log to see when it becomes available. For someone interested in old calculators, it is really a lot of fun to read.

17-Feb-09: Friden EC-130 Display System

February 17, 2009

I recently received an EMail from Mr. Jack Bialik that contained some very interesting information about the development of the CRT-based display system that ended up being used in Friden’s first electronic calculator, the Friden EC-130. All of the information contained in this posting is from Mr. Bialik’s memories of a project he was involved in at Stanford Research Institute in the early 1960’s.

Mr. Bialik obtained his BSEE from University of Michigan in 1950. After graduating, he worked at Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corp. (CONVAIR), where he was involved in development of a display system utliizing CONVAIR’s Charactron display tube technology. Joseph McNaney of CONVAIR invented the Charactron tube in 1949, but the production operations were later transfered to Stromberg-Carlson (S-C) by General Dynamics, the parent corporation of (among others) CONVAIR and S-C. In late 1955, Mr. Bialik left CONVAIR, and joined Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International), a non-profit research and development organization founded in Menlo Park, California, in 1949. The Old Calculator Museum wishes to thank Mr. Bialik for sharing his memories.

In the latter part of 1961, SRI was contacted by Friden Calculating Machine Company’s VP of Research and Development, Mr. Larry Robinson. Robinson requested a proposal from SRI’s Computer Lab to design and develop a prototype transistorized CRT-based numeric display system that could display four lines of 27 digits on a small CRT display. Friden’s stated intention then was to use the SRI’s research efforts as the basis for producing an electronic display for an electronic calculator that Friden was planning to build. Friden’s requirement for such a display for this calculator was defined by the desire for the machine to be able to display the entry register, the result register, and temporary registers used to hold intermediate results of calculations. Existing display methods (Nixie or Pixie tubes) would require way too much space, power, and expense in order to display a similar amount of data. The use of a CRT display would provide a much more compact and efficient means to display this quantity of information.

Mr. Bialik, and his immediate Supervisor, Milton B. Adams, wrote up a proposal for the project that Friden accepted. Work on the project began in late 1961. A five-man design team was put together, with Mr. Bialik as the Project Leader and architect; Dave Condon and Dale Masher performing design work (logic and circuit implementation); Don Ruder to develop a separate testing system to drive the display subsystem; and Bill Stephens to fabricate the designs.

In early 1962 , SRI delivered to Friden three hardware copies (and associated documentation) of an engineering prototype display system that met the requirements established by Friden.. The display system contained four plug-in circuit boards that contained all of the circuitry to implement the display system, including the high voltage drive for the CRT. The prototype units were packaged in an aluminum housing with a viewport that allowed the face of the CRT to be seen, as well as house the electronics and power supply for the display system. Also included in the deliverables was a “calculator simulator”, a device that would allow digits to be entered into a keyboard and displayed on the display subsystem. The simulator device provided a means to test and troubleshoot the display system, and also to demonstrate that it indeed operated. The calculator simulator device was not a calculator — it could not perform any arithmetic. It only provided a means for entry (via a keyboard); storage (via a small magnetic drum); and control logic (transistorized circuitry) that would provide a source of data for the display system to display. Along with the hardware, all of the design information, engineering notebooks, and any other data related to the project were turned over to Friden when the project was completed and signed off.

Along with all of the work on the project itself, a patent (US Patent #3430095) on the principles of the display system and the “calculator simulator” was filed. It isn’t clear if SRI drafted the patent application for the concepts of the display system on its own, or if this was part of the arrangement with Friden. What is known is that because the work done by SRI was an exclusive “CLIENT CONFIDENTIAL” contract with Friden, once the patent was approved (not until February of 1969), SRI assigned all rights to the patent to Friden Calculating Machine Co. The patent lists Mr. Bialik, Mr. Masher, and Mr. Stephens as the inventors, but makes no reference at all to Stanford Research Institute.

The display system worked as required, and Friden appeared pleased with the results. The design of the display system was used pretty much un-modified from its SRI-designed form in various calculator prototypes. An early prototype electronic calculator, patented by Friden (US Patent #3474238), was based on a magnetic drum memory system, very similar to that used in the “calculator simulator” developed by SRI. Diagrams and text in this patent are very similar to those listed in the patent for the display subsystem and “calculator simulator”. Later patents from Friden outlining design prototypes that led to the development of the EC-130 also used much of the material in the original patent with little changes.

Although more research needs to be done, it seems pretty clear that in the early stages of brainstorming their ideas for an electronic calculator, Friden grappled with issues relating to how they were going to display the working registers of the machine that they had envisioned. One of the early prototype calculator patents filed by Friden indicated that it was considered very important that the calculator be able to display all of its working registers for the operator to see. As a result of this requirement, and limitations with existing numeric display technology, Friden had to look outside the company for design expertise in display systems technology. While it’s clear that Friden had internal resources skilled in the art of digital design, perhaps the “analog-ness” of the design requirements to generate a CRT-based numeric display required skillsets that didn’t exist in-house., This is probably why Stanford Research Institute’s Computer Lab was hired to do the design.

While the development of the display technology certainly played a significant role in making the EC-130 an early reality, the display system was only a part of what was needed to make a complete electronic calculator. It appears that much of the display system concept developed at SRI, along with some concepts from the “calculator simulator” (including basic transistorized logic gate designs) were used by Friden in the development of the EC-130. However, clearly the internal design work that went on at Friden to put the “brains” behind the display system was by far a more challenging task.

This commentary is in no way intended to take away any of the significance of Friden’s engineering effort in the development of the EC-130. It is, however, an interesting new tidbit of inforamation to add to the story of the development of Friden’s first electronic calculator.

31-Dec-08: Best wishes for 2009!

December 31, 2008

I apologize for the lack of posting over the past few days.  I’ve been out of town, and prior to that, the weather was doing all it could to keep me preoccupied. Fortunately, the snow is almost all gone now, and we managed through with no damages, in spite of deep snow, ice, and power outages. It wasn’t so for many other folks in the region, who suffered from downed trees, burst pipes, collapsed roofs, gutters torn off, and other collateral damage from the snow and ice. 

Monday a Wang 360SE electronics package arrived, courtesy of Mr. Arnold Allen, who kindly sent this machine, along with the Wang 370/371 mentioned in earlier postings, as well as a bunch of Wang Laboratories calculator documentation and a stack of Olivetti Programma 101 documentation.  The parcel with the 360SE had been sent out weeks ago, but due to the 40-year winter storm here, it was delayed because delivery vehicle could not make it up the hill to our property.

The parcel was opened today, and the electronics package made the trip without any signs of obvious damage. It was fortunately very well-packed and double boxed.  The outer box looked like it had been through a very rough time, but the inner box was untouched.  Double-boxing is the only way to go when shipping these old machines around.  Time didn’t permit today to do a detailed inspection of the 360SE, but time should present itself over the next few days.

A little time was spent today pulling transistors off of the “570” Logibloc from the Wang 370 and testing them.  This is tedious work, but so far, no bad transistors have been found.  There are still a number of transistors left to be tested.  Those tested so far were replaced.  Over the coming days, I hope to test the rest of the transistors in the logic that decodes the timing chain flip flop outputs.

It’s New Year’s Eve, with the end of 2008 coming in less than 7 hours, and a brand new year to look forward to.

It is my sincere hope that 2009 brings peace, prosperity, health, and happiness to all. 

26-Dec-08: Roughing it

December 26, 2008

Here in Oregon, over the past two weeks, we’ve had a winter storm (snow and ice) that is the worst such event in 40 years.  The last time this area experienced such an event was in 1968, right during the prime-time of the electronic calculator era.  In 1968, HP introduced the HP 9100A – undeniably a major benchmark in the history of electronic desktop calculating…and the beginning of personal computing.  Along with HP’s earth-shattering introduction, calculators that utilized integrated circuit logic started to become more commonplace.

I vividly remember the 1968 snowstorm.  My parents’ home had snow drifts that went up and over the house.  The wind was blowing the snow so hard that it was blowing snow underneath the garage door such that foot-tall snowdrifts formed in the garage!  Both my parents’ cars were completely buried in the driveway.  My uncle, who was living with us at the time, had to dig a tunnel from the back door of the house to get out.  He hiked about 2 miles to a grocery store to get food, as the cupboards were running bare.  It was quite a time.

The current storm created quite a stir where we live.  We were without electricity for a period of almost four days – making the situation much more difficult.  We live in a very rural area, with only electricity, phone, and DSL as utilities.  We have a well for water, and propane for heating and cooking.  Fortunately, just before the storm started, the propane people came and filled the tank.   Without electricity, though, the furnace doesn’t run, and the well pump can’t run.  That means water becomes a real precious commodity, and heating has to be done by burning wood.   Living like this makes one really think about what it must have been like to live in times before electricity, phones, Internet, and central heating.

Such events make one really appreciate the benefits that technology have brought to us.  Technologies that we all take so for-granted really start to make their importance known when they are taken away.

Sometimes technology can be such a pain in the butt.  It can also be used in ways that are not beneficial to mankind in general.  But, it truly is amazing how technology has so dramatically changed our lives in the last 100 years.   It’s even more mind-boggling to think just how technology is going to change our lives within a timeframe even as short as the next ten years.  The rate of advancement of technology today makes the days of “rapid” advancement of calculator technology look glacial in comparison.  While I find the wonders of the technology of 1968 completely fascinating, I can’t help but be dazzled by the technologies of the near future.  Things like biotechnology, nanotechnology, quantum computing — these things have just as much, if not more, chance of radically changing our lives.  I just hope that the changes that come from these things end up being of as much benefit to mankind as the advances of technology in the late 1960’s.