Punched-tape music box kit

From the backlog department, available at ThinkGeek: A punched-tape music box.
"There are no pins, but a strip of paper, which you punch yourself. That's right, you punch all your own songs! No more listening to "Memory" - it's time for Koji Kondo's greatest hits (the genius behind many of Mario's and Link's most memorable themes). We'd love to chat more, but it's time for us to compose a lullaby for Princess Peach."
Ah, punched tape. The oldest successful binary data storage medium lives on. ThinkGeek even provides a link to a PDF punched-tape encoding the Super Mario Brothers theme. Could this be the start of a whole new kind of music filesharing?

Saving Lisa

From the backlog department: my friend Charlie blogs about resurrecting an Apple Lisa at the Alameda County Computer Resource Center.

Cological Marble Run Construction Set

From the backlog department, available at ThinkGeek:
"The Cological Marble Run Construction Set is imported from Japan and allows you to create challenging custom courses for your marbles. Everything from zig-zag tracks, to a mini rolling car to whacking mallets until your reach the end and pop up the flag with a little song. You get 23 different types of mechanisms for moving marbles with 97 parts total. Rather than explaining exactly how to build a certain configuration, the included manual teaches you to use each mechanism and lets you figure out how to join them together in fantastic ways. A lot of tweaking is required, but the parts allow for some pretty precision adjustments. When your monstrous marble contraption works perfectly it's pretty satisfying."
My favorite part of the description:
"This product is imported from Japan and the manual is all in Japanese. But the detailed assembly illustrations are straightforward enough in an "Ikea like" manner so you should be fine."

Kircher Society Essential Library of Automata

From the backlog department:
"...Kircher Society Resident Automatist Dug North, has compiled a list of essential books on the history, art, and science of the automaton. Enjoy."
Excellent set of references on mechanical automata.


Smallwood calculator instructions

From the Grover Collection...

Four pages of fragile, slightly-bug-eaten operating instructions from a gorgeous Pascaline-style calculator I have. These instructions offer a great insight into the variety of different operations possible on a device that looks deceptively simple at first glance. The Smallwood adds numbers like most other Pascaline-type calculators and the sum appears in a row of "answer" windows. The subtraction operation is unusual for avoiding the "answer" windows entirely and instead using a secondary indicator on the rotating dials themselves. The passages on "correcting errors," "guards against interruptions," and "to tabulate two items at the same time" highlight some of less-obvious features of this model. The instructions for multiplying and dividing on the Smallwood are particularly interesting since these Pascaline calculators are often thought of as only "adding machines."

Click for high resolution JPGs of the instruction images:


Hydrodynamic building set

Speaking of fluidic computing, this looks like some fluidic logic waiting to happen. $89.99 at ThinkGeek.


Fluidic computing at Bowles Fluidics

I had the pleasure of participating in the Coding and Computation in Microfluidics workshop at the MIT Media Lab last week. A highlight for me was the brief presentation about the history of fluidic computing by Ron Stouffer and Sri Sridhara of Bowles Fluidics. Check out the wonderful diagram of various fluidic logic gates and their valve and electronic equivalents (left), and look at the original PowerPoint file from their talk for how these principles are still used in things like massaging chairs and windshield washer nozzles.