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It’s fund raising time again, so there’s no avoiding tuning into talk that expresses the cost of a KPFT membership in equivalent units of other stuff. Like a cup of coffee. Whether is was the five-cents-a-day fare that Sally Struthers spoke of before the age of Star Bucks or the proverbial four dollar frappachino, that calculation is rarely omitted from fund raising efforts. Possibly because it’s easy math…and nearly everyone in the geekosphere can relate to caffeine.

And you certainly wouldn’t want to have to figure out what a KPFT Basic Membership would cost you in terms of terabytes transferred to Amazon’s Simple Storage Solution if you had to do it by hand, would you? Especially if they’re computing megabytes as a powers of two rather than the mega-means-one-thousand bytes methodology that is extremely popular with hard drive manufacturers.

No, you would want, maybe even *need*, a calculator.

Blaise Pascal is generally credited with inventing the digital calculator. And by digital, I mean a technology that uses discrete values rather electronic. I have seen some misinformed folk on the ‘net under the impression that Blaise was typing out 55378008 to elicit giggles from friends. That is simply not the case. Blaise’s calculator, known as the Pascaline, was a collection of eight movable dials, each one representing a power of ten. So as the first dial representing the numbers zero through nine would make one full revolution, it would move the second wheel, representing the tens, one click.

This was actually an improvement on the Slide Rule, which was invented in 1622 by William Oughtred. Early-day slide rules came in both rectangular *and* circular models. An engineer with a slide rule is his pocket is probably a pretty old engineer; an engineer with a circular slide rule is ancient.

In 1820, the Arithmometer came on the scene. It was the first commercially successful mechanical calculator.

In 1886, the Comptometer became the first successful key-driven adding machine.

In 1878, W.T. Odhner introduced the Odhner Arithmometer that improved on the earlier device with the addition of a pinwheel engine.

And in 1893, The “Millionare” calculator was introduced. It was the first in its class to perform direct multiplication. Snopes neither confirmed nor denied that these early calculators were, in fact, covered with gold.

Other cool calculated names? The Arithmaurel in 1842 and the curtly name Curta. The Curta was the first miniature calculator that could be held in one hand. And while it was introduced to the world in 1948, it was developed under peculiar circumstances in 1938.

These circumstances included Nazi’s bunkered away in underground salt mines, forcing a Mr. Curt Herzstark (Spoiler Alert: the Curta) to work on a small, black metal cylinder, no bigger than the palm of his hand.

If you want to know more, you can Go Googling or you can check out the story re-enacted by real live people on the Neuhaus stage of the Alley Theater.

They’ll be putting on Kenneth Lin’s play, Intelligence-Slave, which centers around Curt, his work on the world’s first miniature four function calculator and his dealings with the nasty Nazi’s that designated him an intelligence slave during the second World War.

The play runs from May 23 through June 20th here in Houston at the Alley Theater. It’s actually the play’s world premier, otherwise I would rattle off some reviews for you. You hear that, bloggers? This is brand new territory…

Another spoiler alert? You can spell Sieg Heil using the same upside-down technique on any pocket calculator with an LCD disply. Actually, I’m not entirely sure that’s in the play; I’ve only read the first act. I do know that the cast has spent some time with an actual Curta device so they would be able to more accurately operate the prop-Curta on stage.

For details on the play and performance times, hit www.alleytheatre.org. (Either spelling of theater works with that…)

A warning: The play is recommended for mature audiences due to “language and subject matter”. I’m assuming this mature subject matter is the math behind 9’s Compliment, not the Nazis. Nine’s Compliment is the notion that you can perform subtraction operations by adding the radix compliment, or in our own decimal system, the Nine’s compliment of a number.

If you want some Allied Action, you’ll have to search out Hugh Whitemore’s play, Breaking the Code, which centers around Alan Turing and his efforts to break the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War II. The play was adapted for television in 1996 by the BBC and was re-broadcast in the US by PBS, so there’s a good chance you can find it.

While that’s not certainly not it for this calculated cry for currency, that that’s for BarretTime.

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