Without going as far as W. Richard Stevens to
dedicate major books to MTS and the 360/67,
(or Donald Knuth who dedicated TAOCP to the 650,
"in remembrance of many pleasant evenings")
I must still admit — at
a minimum — that digital
logic toys such as microprocessors were a major
influence on my upbringing.
I still keep some of my dearest toys from that period.
I photographed a select few of them,
(Soviet 8080, although it is not a copy of Intel's design —
there are microphotographs of the die on the Internet,
it is clear that the chip is quite different from the real 8080),
chips from the 580 chipset, UV-EPROM chips...
These are my actual toys from late 1980s.
There are many people who ask me,
"how do you make math interesting?"
The key to the answer is that math is magic;
and magic is inherently interesting.
The real trick is,
making math UN-interesting,
by taking the magic away from it.
Here is the "Magic Phone",
which I received as a birthday present for my 4th birthday
from Dr. Y. Chr. Grigoryan
(a friend of our family,
and my very first teacher of math and physics,
and a great influence,
to whom I am indebted with getting the taste
for exact sciences and the corresponding mode of thinking):
The toy comprises a disk cut out of cardboard,
and attached to a rectangular cardboard back.
You start by resetting the arrow to point to the right —
opposing the arrow "start".
When you dial a word,
the arrow will point to the corresponding picture;
e.g. dialing "CAT" will turn the arrow to point to the cat).
(Of course, this is an adaptation for my English readers.
The actual toy had Cyrillic letters combining into Russian words.
I can not guarantee that the objects were the very same,
but it is close enough to represent the Zeitgeist.
And of course, I did make sure that the mod 28
arithmetic does work with the English words in the diagram).
The first thing I did — I tried out
all the relevant words.
They all worked.
"Wow, nice machine!
I am curious what the mechanics of it are...—
wait, what if I dial my name?"
The disk did turn, but ended up pointing in a direction bearing no
relation to my name.
"Ok, whatever. Let's see how this thing operates."
I turned the toy over, preparing for a long joy of working on
disassembling the genius mechanism and sorting out how it works.
I wasn't even sure what to expect,
what kind of super-clever machinery would produce such intelligent results.
To my shock, there were no cogs, no motor, no battery, NOTHING.
The disk was holding to the cardboard by a pin (obvious from
that front side — inspecting the back added no new insight).
That was it. No mechanism.
My first reaction was bitter disappointment.
What, no hours of joy of trying to figure out how the cogs work together?!!
But wait a minute.
How DOES the thing work? —
A long, looong pause.
A stretch of emptiness, of void,
of not letting any noise enter
the consciousness — just listening
to any answer that might enter the mind.
As a mathematician, now I know this was the first experience
of concentrated thinking, when facing a mathematical mystery.
And the sheer feeling of that void,
was the most wonderful thing on earth.
Oh, of course I know how it works.
It's a schitalochka (counting-out game), "eniki-beniki..."!
the arrow advances by as many objects (or kids) according to each
piece of input; and when it makes more than a full revolution,
it starts over.
Now this, is the mathematical insight.
And interestingly, in this particular example,
we have immediate anticipation of the digital toys
such as those pictured at the top of this page.
What is this flight, "velo", that Leonardo is talking about here?
When once you have tasted flight,
you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,
for there you have been and there you will always long to return.
Codice sul velo degli uccelli