Build Your Own Digicomp Mechanical Computer!
By James Grahame
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.
I'm a bit too young to have enjoyed the Digicomp era, but enthusiast Larry Groebe explained the attraction of these clever toys to me, "Digicomp 1 in particular (the cheaper model) started a bunch of kids on a career in computers -- myself included. I got mine for Christmas in 1968 and took it to the 5th grade show and tell, where I tried to explain binary numbers to a deeply suspicious teacher and uncomprehending class." Larry went on to start the "Friends of Digicomp" on Yahoo Groups -- an excellent source of information about this nifty device.
And now for the best part... Group member Tim Walker has introduced an updated $49 version this cool little machine, in an era where classic Digicomps change hands on eBay for up to $100 a pop. Unlike the original, the new machine is manufactured from laser die-cut 80-point binders board. The box contains the necessary assortment of jig-formed steel rods; plus rubber bands, plastic tubes, and various odd-looking widgets. An attractive spiral-bound 48-page user guide contains illustrated assembly instructions plus over 30 hands-on experiments.