View Full Version : Two new replica kits -- DigiComp and Altair!

March 11th, 2006, 08:25 PM
Hi everyone. I don't usually do this, but here is the current issue of Computer Collector, in its entirety -- read carefully to learn about the DigiComp 1 v.2.0 kit and, perhaps more interesting to some of you, Vince Briel's new "AltairPC" kit.


>> W: http://news.computercollector.com E: news@computercollector.com
>> March 11, 2006: News/opinion, tidbits, classifieds

This week's issue:
1. Build a DigiComp; 2. Another new Altair replica; 3. Plasma Pong; 4. Apple's 30th anniversary; 5. Rockwell thermal printers wanted

Is this issue late from last Monday, or early for next Monday? You decide. We just know the news has been flowing in like it's high tide lately. Help us keep up the pace: what interests you in the hobby, what should we write about, what's your funniest collecting story? Share your scoop at news@computercollector.com -- we're interested!

Please tell your friends about our newsletter!


Ever feel like putting aside the complicated digital dinosaurs and getting back to binary basics? If so, the DigiComp kit from Minds-On Toys (http://www.mindsontoys.com) might be just what you need, but don't be surprised if your child is equally fascinated.

The original Digi-Comp 1 was a mechanical, plastic computer made by Montclair, N.J.-based ESR Inc. starting in the mid-1960s. It sold for just $6 and now they're on eBay for hundreds. A discussion group formed in 1999 (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/friendsofdigicomp/) but things turned more exciting when Minds-On Toys last year began selling its replica kit called the Digi-Comp 1 v.2.0 for just $55.

Originally the idea for a modern replica was discussed at various times in the Yahoo group, but the commercial version was the brainchild of Minds-On (a play on "hands-on") which is owned by Tim Walker. Walker has an impressive history in computers and education: he studied social psychology at Harvard, worked as a high school teacher, earned a masters degree in interactive telecommunications at New York University, studied under Seymour Papert at the MIT Media Lab (http://web.media.mit.edu/~papert/), and worked on Hypercard for a contractor to Apple Computer.

Walker decided to build the replica as part of his ongoing research into the history of educational toys. His first round of 100 kits quickly sold out, so now it's in the second run. An interesting experience happened while building early prototypes out of heavy paper and similar materials -- he realized how much better it would function out of precision-cut metal -- akin to the experiences of Charles Babbage, whose ideas exceeded his technical resources. Luckily, Walker has access to modern production companies, although a large amount of reverse-engineering was required because he didn't own an original Digi-Comp while designing the replica.

So what can the replica kit actually do? First, it can count from 0 to 101 (seven); if you have patience it can solve math problems and even play games. There isn't any memory, so you have to assist the machine by keeping track of values. But that's the point! Digi-Comp is for learning, not computing. You can literally view every step as it happens, and the 48-page instruction manual is simple enough for a 10- year-old, yet elegant enough for a trained programmer. After reading a few pages, it's clear why the original Digi-Comp was successful.

- Evan Koblentz, editor


Speaking of replicas, our inbox tonight contained an exciting message from Vince Briel, known for his Replica 1 kit version of the Apple 1 computer. Vince is making an earlier-than-expected announcement of his new replica, which is a semi-real Altair faceplate for an ordinary PC (not unlike Rich Cini's Altair32 project which we mentioned two weeks ago.) To read the details , visit http://www.brielcomputers.com or see it for yourself at the Vintage Computer Festival East 3.0 this spring (see the VCF details in our Tidbits section, below.)


>> Buy your copy of "Collectible Microcomputers" directly from author Michael Nadeau: http://www.classictechpub.com. This amazing book includes more than 700 computers with details and pricing.

>> Christine Finn's "Artifacts: An archeologist's year in Silicon Valley" is the story of the change from farmlands to high-tech. Buy it directly from MIT Press at http://tinyurl.com/6rllz (also see Christine's blog http://traumwerk.stanford.edu:3455/ChristineFinn/9).

This week's vintage gaming news from Armchair Arcade, please visit http://www.armchairarcade.com/aamain/news.php for details:

-- This. Is. Freaking. Awesome! -- Plasma Pong. I just played it and, trust me, you'll love it:

-- Coming soon: version 4 of Apple II Compact Flash: http://www.armchairarcade.com/aamain/news.php?extend.502 ... Also, the AppleWin software is now licensed under the GPL (same link)


-- The latest update on VCF East 3.0: there are now two live auctions, four keynote speeches, 14 exhibitors, and just two months to go! We're getting excited and you should be, too. Visit http://www.vintage.org for all the details and frequent updates.

-- Over at CNET News.com, they're planning a special report for the 30th anniversary of Apple (http://tinyurl.com/o2pwl). April 1, 1976 was Day One, with the founders listed as Woz, Jobs, and Ronald Wayne -- who sold his stake two weeks later for $800. Anyway, CNET wants to know what you love(d) about Apple, so we'll do the opposite: tell us your favorite Apple horror stories. What were the company's biggest blunders, from executive strategies to customer support? Tell us what you HATE about the Cupertinians. Yes, we are serious. It'll be fun.


This week's classifieds are sponsored by the Vintage Computer Forum at http://www.vintage-computer.com/vcforum/.

For sale:
1. Free! IBM PC-2 for cost of shipping:
2. Sharp PC5541 portable 286 computer:
3. Assembled Briel Replica 1 (New Jersey):
4. Commodore magazines and manuals:
5. Full collection of Electronics Australia magazine:
6. Free! TRS-80 Model I with expansion interface for cost of shipping:

Items Wanted:
1. Early PC World magazines:
2. Monochrome monitor with RCA jack:
3. Thermal printers for Rockwell AIM-65:


>> For more buy/sell/trade opportunities, please visit the Vintage
Computer Marketplace at http://www.vintagecomputermarketplace.com.

>> VintageTech provides services such as patent litigation support,
prior art research, vintage computer consulting, movie and photography
props, media and data conversion, appraisals, and sales brokering.
Visit us: www.vintagetech.com.

>> Special thanks to EvenLink LLC for sponsoring our domain name and
e-mail hosting. Please visit http://www.evenlink.com for details.