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Old 17th April 2009, 11:23 AM   #1 (permalink)
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The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

I am trying to make a manual how to redesign the electronic calculator to become sustainable in a hunting and gathering lifestyle. Which means that all things must be made in the wilderness from scratch and be transportable since hunter and gathers were nomadic. This may include smelting ore, building tools, soldering, make copper wire, creating magnets, building generators, building semiconductors etc. Of coarse some of these things might not be needed in the new design but the only way to find out is for those who are willing to collaborate to make it happen. The possibility of designing a working model will not be known unless someone else has weighed out all the possibilities involved in remaking an electronic calculator in this environment, so please don't turn this into a discussion about whether or not it is possible. Although I am sure there were always be an unqualified response like "its impossible". Questions and comments about the feasibility of the project will just slow down the process of the project.

The other question is why should this be done and my answer is because always pursuing a path based on immediate necessity can only provide us with limited knowledge. If we question long term solutions for larger problems there will be new knowledge in it. It is exactly the improbable places and situations that provide real new knowledge.

Do not assume! That hunter gather refers to a time frame it is a way of life. The functionality comes as a secondary to the purpose of creating the manual with an alluring narrative. But somehow we cannot have one without the other.

p.s. an abacus is not electrical, a slide rule is not electrical and a mechanical computer is not either, if you are going to suggest a vacum tube then how to we get it small enough to transport?
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Old 17th April 2009, 12:16 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

You're going to have hell with your semiconductors, and worse with trying to build a vacuum pump good enough to make thermionic valves (tubes)

You might (just) be able to get pottery glazes pure enough to get amplification, but your wastage factor is going to be enormous.

Does it have to be electronic? If I can get a fluid logic circuit to work in binary, would this suffice? (there's been a whole lot of discussion about this in the 163Xverse, but they are working in an early modern society, not hunter/gatherer. Where, incidentally, even the metal smelting is going to be a major problem, and most chemical purification impossible.

As regards size, even if we manage crystal whisker transistors we're not going to manage VLSI chips; it's not the photomasking, it's the purity of the doping chemicals. So the thing is going to be big, and heavy, even before the batteries. Which will be huge.

Optimum semiconductor would be diamond, as it's available very pure naturally. Doping it could be fun, though. And it needs a considerably higher voltage than silicon or germanium.

Small vacuum tubes are quite possible, and multi-electrodes, reducing the number needed (though combining the two would require impressive micromanipulation skills, like writing the bible on a grain of rice) but having built it, and checked it free of all short circuits, how do we pump out the air? I attempted this with seventeenth century technology, and failed; perhaps if we could freeze mercury, ie. take the unfinished tubes to the heart of Antarctica…
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Old 17th April 2009, 04:59 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

Stone age electronics = very difficult. Some things like radio communication could possibly be done; but digital/analog calculations/readouts would be tough.
Why not an abacus for calculations? (They were demonstrably faster than a computer for years after computers were invented).
The standard portable engineering calculator used to be the slide rule (I had to go electronic in school not for accuracy but to allow time to check results on tests). A bit of time with a stone knife and some bits of wood/bone would produce an adequate aproximation...
Out of curiosity; what would stone age people need to calculate that couldn't be done with fingers or on a handy piece of hide?

Enjoy!
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Old 17th April 2009, 07:56 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

I'm glad a previous post mentioned cat-whisker tech, saved me a lot of trouble...

IIRC, the first 'transistors' were point-contact. More recently, there's been interest in 'negative resistance region' materials for home-brew tunnel diodes...

(Care: These are 'NR region' materials, have a lazy-N output that can amplify if biased into 'active' region. They are not, Not, NOT perpetual motion, ZPE, antigrav etc etc... ;-)

FWIW, some-where in my accidental collection of electronic gubbins & widgets, beside the hollerith card-punch (!!), I have a primitive 4-function reverse-polish calculator which outputs to plasma-display nixie tubes. Those do not need vacuum-tube grade vacuum, but are still beyond the remit of a camp-fire glass blower...

Oh, and the case is full of 2nd-gen ICs, ie they are DIL not circular. I *think* they are DTL Diode Transistor Logic, which you could replicate with discrete components, rather than fully integrated TTL, ECL, CMOS etc...

I've also seen some hardened 'solid state' vacuum tubes, that resembled pottery rather than glass. And, I've seen logic done with gas-discharge tubes. Don't try this at home, folks, those voltages *bite*...

IMHO, you are looking at the problem backwards: I get the impression you are trying to boot-strap migrant herdsmen, and the answer is NOT PRACTICABLE. Even if you go for catswhisker tech, even if you could get the natural minerals to behave, make and place the delicate copper / gold / silver / iron filaments, even if you ran it all off 'baghdad batteries', even a simple, buffered sum-adder stage would fill a breadboard...

Yup, that's 1+1 --> 0 + 1_carry.

Um, before ICs were commonplace, I built free-roving robotic wheelies (and tank-trackies ;-) using only discrete components. There were a couple of 'priority' logic gates, a couple of delay timers, a flip-flop and some relay drivers crammed on to a circuit board. Similar in complexity to the sum-adder stage above, that was about my home-brew build limit.

If you wanted to do anything more serious, the set-up rapidly becomes non-luggable. Conceivably, the cellars of a mountain-perched monastery might be a good place to build it-- But now they're not herds-men/-women. IMHO, young ladies would make the best 'minders', they're more patient and nimbler fingered...

If you're talking post-post-industrial, then it is a different ball-game. A purely optical computer *may* be possible, and resemble nothing more technical than eg a 'crystal ball'. But, reflect light up into the 'south pole', and the globe may come alive with proximity sensors and holographic display...

We're into Clarkian 'indistinguishable from magic' country, yet perhaps less than a century away...

Given nano-tech, such marvels may be 'grown' from a 'seed' in a geode. The bigger, the 'wiser'...

Perhaps such 'crystal balls' may be capable of further growth-- Even from fragments.

Some-where between here, there and infinity, consider the possibility of bio-engineered plants that 'fruit' logic-module 'nuts'. Interconnections just need jewellery-grade metal-working tech. Output via bioluminescent 'nuts'...

Is this wildly off-track ??
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Old 17th April 2009, 09:01 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

In the late 70s an Ampex tape recorder power supply yielded to entropy, and blew practically all the transport logic. This turned out to be a family of high level TTL chips, no longer manufactured and not available anywhere I (or Ampex) could find them.

So I got the logic diagrams, (all simple gate arrays, inverters, buffers, open collector) and rebuilt the entire logic with discrete components, on the back of 14 pin DIL plugs. The machine was still working two years later, when I lost track (pun intended) of it.

But our point contact transistors will be a lot bigger than the epoxy-encased ones I used then. And lower gain.

Just a minute; I smell a loophole. He says a slide rule is not electrical, not electronic. I can use relays, and uniselectors. Like a telephone exchange. And gates, or gates, parallel or serial contacts. And all I need is springy iron reeds, and insulated wire for coils. Latching for flip-flop memories.

A trifle heavy, methinks, even with reed relays, and somewhat noisy, and rather impressive power supply - what, a couple of thousand amps at twelve volts? – but buildable with very simple resources if you know in advance what you're trying for. Readouts on those little flipping panels, input probably punch tape; I wonder if it would weigh more than a Babbage engine.

He's not going to accept this, is he?
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Old 18th April 2009, 01:55 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

Surely such a device is gonna be so big as to unportable without a lorry! I mean Early calculators were bulky but before transistors such a calculator at its smallest would have been the size of a fridge or the size of a room at its largest!
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Old 18th April 2009, 04:17 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

I was once involved with the manufacture of magnetic read relays (both latching and momentary types); take my word for it they are not something that a stone age hunter gatherer society could make in quantity to function reliably.
Stepping relays (Stroger switches) on the other hand would, probably, be do-able (technology, ala 1880s) but again they would be very heavy and have relatively huge power requirements.

The need for portability is a huge obstacle, as are the primitive/high power requirements.

Enjoy!
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Old 18th April 2009, 04:38 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

I got it,the perfect solution to a primitive calculator. Just three items needed.
Note pad, pencil and rubber!
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Old 18th April 2009, 05:08 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

I've an even cheaper solution, AE: a stick to write in the dirt/sand.


But the cheapest would be a finger or a toe.
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Old 18th April 2009, 07:29 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

Um, before we get toooo far off-topic, here's some weird & wonderful possibilities for 'primitive tech'...

Spark, Bang, Buzz and Other Good Stuff.

And, at a rather obscure link within that site,
Flame Triode With Gain.

IIRC, a flame may also be used as a loud-speaker !!
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Old 18th April 2009, 07:43 PM   #11 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nik View Post
Um, before we get toooo far off-topic, here's some weird & wonderful possibilities for 'primitive tech'...

Spark, Bang, Buzz and Other Good Stuff.

And, at a rather obscure link within that site,
Flame Triode With Gain.

IIRC, a flame may also be used as a loud-speaker !!
The Ionofane plasma loudspeaker, built (and commercialised) in the sixties was essentially just that; a modulated flame.

I'd heard of flame rectifiers, but gain? And his astable certainly suggests it's possible. A gas powered amplifier, yippee!
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Old 18th April 2009, 08:47 PM   #12 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

http://www.qsl.net/k3pd/chap04.pdf

This describes home-brew 'crystal' diodes *and* transistors. It also includes some of the hair-tearing difficulties...
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Old 19th April 2009, 10:43 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Re: The Stone Age Electronic Calculator

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ursa major View Post
I've an even cheaper solution, AE: a stick to write in the dirt/sand.


But the cheapest would be a finger or a toe.
Ah but what would be cheaper,a finger or a toe? Hmmm
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