Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Y'learn something new every day

Even if it's about something old.

Now then, I know Peg Britton and MommaBear have both used slipsticks back in the pre-silicon chip days, but I wonder if either of them (or any of the rest of you, for that matter) ever used a Curta?

I picked up a copy of the latest Scientific American the other day and just got around to reading it last night--inside was an article about a wonderful little calculating device (link goes only to an article intro, not the full article) invented by a fellow named Curt Herzstark, who as a prisoner in Buchenwald came up with the idea for a small, handheld, mechanical calculator.

It looks a bit like a pepper mill or a pencil sharpener, but aside from the interesting appearance, it is a wonderfully precise bit of Liechtensteinian machining and ingenuity. Mr. Herzstark, born in Austria in 1902, imagined and developed the device as a simple alternative to the gigantic, multikey mechanical desktop calculating machines used by engineers and architects. (My mother works for an electrical contractor, and they still have one of these old behemoths they keep around to look at. I think my mom and one of the estimators are the only ones who remember how to work it.)

Anyway, I can barely tie my shoes, so the interaction of the fiendishly complicated working bits of the Curta and the concepts behind them haven't quite filtered into my understanding, but it is still a wonderful looking tool designed by an incredibly interesting man. Herzstark's nifty invention died off with the slide rules when electronic calculators were introduced in the mid-'70s.

The article notes that they were sold in the pages of Scientific American back in the '50s and '60s for $125. A lot of scratch back then--even more now. E-bay lists several (along with various manuals and other ephemera) that range in price from over $1,000, all the way up to $3,000.

I still haven't finished reading the article, but there is an even better online resource at The Curta Calculator Page, which has just about anything you could ever want to know about mechanical calculating in general, the Curta in particular, and its fascinating inventor. There is even an online simulator of the Curta you can play with if you have Flash 6 or above installed on your computer. (I don't have it here at work, so I will have to find another way to waste time.)

Pretty cool stuff.

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