Nonmagnetic digital storage at 10 bytes per second

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
Four years ago, almost to the day, I made a blog post about a mystery item in the Digital Sandbox. A short while later, I revealed the mystery item. Here's a new mystery item from my Digital Sandbox.

20090923 - Paper Tape Reader Punch - Front.jpgI always wanted to own the Heathkit H-10 Paper Tape Punch./Reader but when I built my first computer, a Heathkit H-8 Microcomputer with a whopping 64K of RAM, audio cassettes were popular for low-cost for data storage and I had to choose whether to build something cool - Paper Tape - or something state-of-the-art - Cassette tape. I chose the latter and was thankful every time it only took me 20 minutes to boot from cassette rather than hours booting from paper tape.

Of course, if I had chosen paper tape, I could still read my data, whereas I doubt of I can still read any of those old cassettes.

Today, I came across an old paper tape punch/reader mechanism that has been sitting in my computer museum for almost 20 years. (It's probably twice as old as that.) I don't remember where it came from of what computer I would have salvaged it from. My best guess is that it may have come from a Teletype terminal similar to a Model 35ASR, but I really do not know.

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Digital Sandbox Mystery Computer Identified

Thursday, September 15th, 2005
Congratulations, Chris, you guessed it! That's my Heathkit H8 microcomputer kit from the late 1970's. I used that computer for many years; it helped launch my career in computer consulting. It served me well.

The one Megahertz 8080 CPU was fast, but I wanted better performance for my number-crunching, so I built an after-market CPU upgrade kit to allow me to use a Z-80 processor, which I then clock-doubled to TWO megahertz. Man, was that fast! I still have all the accessories for this beauty. While my classmates were buying cars and tricking them out, I built computers and poured money into upgrades. (So what's new?) The only accessory I do not have, but always wanted, was the paper-tape reader/punch. Not that I needed it - cassette was cheaper and faster - but paper tape was cool.

Here's a photo of the H8 computer today, as it sits in my office.

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Mystery in the Digital Sandbox

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005
Things have been quite busy for me, here in the Digital Sandbox; I'm getting ready to deploy a productivity enhancement system for a client's organization, complete with document imaging, distributed action management, and full wireless access using a Treo 650, SprintPCS, and Pylon Anywhere. Right now, I'm buried in wires, software, and product manuals.  (I know, a "Productivity Enhancement System" sounds like an offer for a vitamin pill or something you might expect to read in a spam email. It's not. If you knew what's going into this box, you'd want one. But that's a blog entry for another day.)

Since I don't have much time to invite guests over to the Digital Sandbox I thought I'd treat you to a mystery tour and see if you can identify the object in the photo.

I'll start by posting a close-up of something. Then, I'll ask for folks to see if they can identify what the item is and tell me what they know about it. The more "mature" readers of this blog may even remember using some of the items that I'll post here. If no one comes close, then I'll zoom out or add other hints.

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Times have changed

Thursday, July 14th, 2005
Two recent comments to my blog about Amy & Wendy's podcast got me thinking about how tech and times have changed since I was a kid.

Colin Walker:
Excellent podcasts - I take my hat off to everyone involved. Listening to them, it really points out how times have changed since I was 12 years old.

Warner Crocker:
These efforts by these two young ladies continue to impress mightily.

Warner, Colin, in 1978, when I was 15, I was what some would have called a computer genius - or at least a computer wiz kid. (Whatever that means).  When I was a kid, if you wanted a computer, you had to build it - either from a Heathkit  - or better, from scratch. In either case, you started with chips and circuit boards to wire wrapping and soldering. The one megahertz 8-bit CPU in my H-8 wasn't fast by today's standards, but I never complained. (I simply clock doubled it to TWO megahertz and added beefy cooling to the chassis.)

I once read an article, about 20 years ago, that attempted to explain why so many young computer wizards had appeared on the scene all at once. (Aside from the fact that computers were suddenly available to the masses; at least those with the money and time to build one.)

The article, as best as I remember, offered these reasons:

Young people often:
  • Have lots of time
  • Are infinitely curious
  • Are not intimidated by the dreaded "BDOS ERROR ON DRIVE A:" (If you remember CP/M you'll get it)
  • Are willing to experiment to find a work-around
  • Will spend hours, trying to make something work (i.e. Text Adventure)
  • Usually don't care what others think about their computer efforts
  • Take satisfaction in leaning/knowing things others don't (or won't)
If you have  young children and computers, put them together; then get out of the way.  (No internet connection needed)

I love encouraging my children - and children in general - to explore technology. That's why I enjoy robotics outreach programs where I get to dress up like this. I wish that when I was a kid, I had access to everything that they have now.

I look forward to seeing what my children will accomplish as they grow up. I look forward to learning from them, too.