Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vintage calculators

"Man Creates Huge Online Museum for Vintage Calculators"


Priya Ganapati

August 30th, 2010


Five hundred eighty-three calculators, 128 brands and one man who has painstakingly cataloged them all.

Emil Dudek, a technology enthusiast who lives in South Wales, U.K., has spent the last eight years acquiring calculators made in the 1970s, taking them apart, photographing them, analyzing the technology and posting it all to his website along with specs and comments on each machine.

It’s one man’s digital ode to electronic calculators. For Dudek, who got his first electronic calculator at the age of 15, in 1976, the devices represent a snapshot in time — a moment at the cusp of a digital computing revolution.

“Calculators were what we drooled after as kids with our nose stuck to the shop window,” says Dudek who runs the Vintage Technology site. “The calculators gave us the freedom and power to do complex calculations.”

Dudek’s online catalog of calculators is an impressive archive of calculators from one decade. Each of the 583 calculators on the site have size, power, case, display information, year manufactured and name of manufacturer listed. The models also include comments explaining the components used, construction and the logic used.

Ultimately, Dudek hopes to catalog the 3,000 to 5,000 calculators he estimates were made in the 1970s.

“What I thought really interesting is that it not just has calculator information but also chip numbers from some of the old ICs used in the device,” says Matt Stack, a calculator enthusiast who recently created a graphing calculator built on open source hardware. ” I like to consider myself an expert in calculators and I learned something.”

For a whole generation of users, calculators were the first introduction to the world of digital computing. The desktop and later pocket-sized machines freed users from log tables and charts. Today scientific calculators are almost a status symbol among alpha nerds.

Dudek’s site Vintage Technology started as a place to showcase his passion for devices that had long been forgotten.

“I am a collector in transit,” he says. “The important thing is the information. The whole purpose of my site is to take obscure things from the past and put information about it on the web so other people who may be searching for that information can find it.”

Dudek combed through eBay, garage sales and estate sales to find old devices that he wanted. Every product on his website is a device that’s he owned, taken apart and played with. Just surfing the web and listing specs doesn’t interest him. He’s as much a critic as an archivist.

Take these comments on the American M-26 calculator from 1975 or 1976, manufacturer unknown.

“The logic is pretty poor with no recovery, disappearing negative sign, negative zero and divide to negative zero bugs, basic percentage function and quirky constant function. My example does not have reset on power-up either. A must for anyone’s collection — just to see how bad a calculator can be,” reads the listing for the calculator on his website.

“I have comments for every calculator on my site and those are the important part,” says Dudek. “I have to explain how the the device works.”

And that effort seems to have paid off.

“I didn’t realize how few companies made the guts of the calculator,” says Stack. “It’s very interesting to see the chips that ran these devices and where they came from.”

Calculators are Dudek’s specialty, but his passion for vintage technology goes beyond that. He has collected and archived ads for TV consoles from the 1950s, an Ediswan voltage stick from 1951, and vintage radios.

But unlike vintage radios that has thousands of collectors and clubs around it, vintage calculator enthusiasts are a small club. Dudek estimates there are only about 50-60 collectors for vintage calculators worldwide.

Yet the competition for old electronic devices can be stiff, which is why Dudek has set some ground rules.

He won’t focus on brands such as Texas Instruments and HP that have fans devoted to their vintage calculators. He will focus just on calculators that came out in the 1970s. He won’t spend money on old calculators that can cost hundreds of dollars and are prized by collectors. And yes, he has to have hands-on time with all the devices he lists.

“You do get people who only collect only TI, HP or Sinclair calculators and will pay hundreds of dollars for one calculator,” he says.”But I am not going to spend $200 on an old HP when I can buy as many calculators for just a $1.”

Dudek has about 200 calculators with him, and he says he’s not an obsessive collector. Calculators that have been listed on his website are often sold to make room for new ones.

“I am not a billionaire,” he says, “and I am not a collector who collects for the sake of collecting. The information is the key, the fact that I own these devices is irrelevant to me.”

Dudek, who spends about 2-3 hours a week on his site, says it’s the e-mails from users that keep him going. Some share their memories of a particular calculator or describe how they used to work at the company that made it.

“I may never finish it, I probably won’t,” he says. “But I believe this information would be lost if I didn’t do it.”

Take a look...maybe you will find one that you owned.

Vintage Technology

No comments: