Holy cow! This was my first computer, c. 1963

by Ara Rubyan

(Click to see a larger image.)

Apparently, these little gizmos are for sale again. Wow:

The Digicomp is a plastic mechanical computer from the 1960s. It offered three bits of tabletop computing, back in an age where corded telephones were considered high-tech. The machine arrived in kit form; your first task was to assemble the jumble of tubes, rods, and elastic bands into something that resembles a Jetson’s parking garage. Once complete, it’s a fantastic hands-on way to teach Boolean algebra and binary numbers.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I’m having, looking at this blast from the past. It’s a little like suddenly meeting a long-lost friend at your 30-year high school reunion and discovering you still have a lot in common. Except in this case, I was in elementary school.

Looking back on it, it’s fun to realize that this little contraption actually was an educational toy — and apparently it had quite an impact on me.

Would I buy another one? Not sure — I guess it’s probably best to leave well enough alone. But, dang! that was a cool little thing, wasn’t it? I’m glad people are recognizing it now.

From the web site:

No one today would claim so reverently, as ESR did in 1963, that Digi-Comp is the “mechanical equivalent of an electronic digital computer” (probably quite a stretch, even back then). And is it still true, or was it ever, that “everything you learn on Digi-Comp can be used on large electronic digital computers”? Probably not. Today, there’s no reason a 10-year-old can’t sit down and learn HTML or Visual Basic on a microcomputer. And that’s fine—but it’s not really what Digi-Comp is about.

What is it about, then? After months of playing (er, testing), we’ve concluded that Digi-Comp is an ingenious, transparent Logical Gizmo that can teach anyone about binary numbers and Boolean algebra, still fundamental concepts in digital circuitry. In an age when interfaces are all that most kids get to know about computers, when working mechanisms of any kind are getting harder to observe (much less get your hands on), we think Digi-Comp’s unique combination of mechanics and logic forges a unique kind of connection between hand and mind. Like many great educational toys, it makes you think. But like almost no other toy we know, it also literally puts you in touch with a way of thinking.

Visit this site and read the comments from all the 52 year-old geeks that had one of these (including me). Heh.

(HT to Cory)

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