Friday, March 20, 2009

Can I run Second Life on it?

Just to show that personal computing is a lot older than we think, this ad from the January 1959 issue of Electronics Illustrated magazine offers for sale an analog computer with not much more power than a ten-dollar calculator but which was probably very advanced for its time.

Analog computers you’ll recall were the predecessors to the digital ones we now know and love (or hate with a passion!). Judging by the photo in the ad, the unit handles data using 5 or 6 metal-shell vacuum tubes. Yup, that’s right, tubes, just like the ones in your guitar amp or antique radio. Transistors at the time were just beginning gain mass-market acceptance, and it would be another 11 years before microprocessors as we now know them would make their appearance and put us on the road to personal computing, digital audio and video, and annoying cell phone ringtones.

Can’t find anything on the web about this particular model. The grid of black dots in the picture is probably an array of pin jacks for the patch cords which were used to program the thing, sort of like the way early synthesizers were programmed. The “display” was the analog meter which you see at the machine’s upper right hand corner. A far cry from the machine you’re viewing this blog on, certainly, but a necessary step in the evolution of the digital world we now inhabit.

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