HP Forums

Full Version: How Programmable Calculators and a Sci-Fi Story Brought Soviet Teens Into the Digital
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Hello,

An interesting article on Russian calculators history by Ksenia Tatarchenko:
https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/s...igital-age

Regards

Vincent
Quote:But the most ambitious computer literacy program ever conceived is one you’ve probably never heard of, and it originated in a very unlikely place: the Soviet Union.

Unlikely? It doesn't sound surprising to me, I thought the Soviets were generally very big on education.

Intersting article, though, and now I am curious about that calculator. Is there any information about the B3-34 on the Internet that isn't in Russian?

UPDATE -- There is some information linked from the article, but not very complete. I'd be interested to see the programming model explained, and specs like number of program steps and registers etc.
I myself was not interested in computers at all until I wanted to do calculations that involved thousands of iterations in loops to figure out something; and then a programmable calculator was in order. The slide rule was not up to the task. First I got a TI-58c, then a 59, then I wanted to be able to control things on the workbench, so I got an HP-41cx with HPIL, XIO, and Advantage, and later other modules, then a 71. Then I started wanting far more speed than I could get from either of these, and got into what became my workbench computer.

The article says,
Quote:Meanwhile, the move sparked an international debate among computer experts over the very definition of “computer literacy.” The U.S. computer scientist and entrepreneur Edward Fredkin argued that his country’s experience should inform the Soviets:
Quote:We now understand that computer literacy is not knowing how to program. It is not understanding how [a] computer works. It is not knowing about bits and bytes and flip-flops and gates.... We now know that true computer literacy means having the skills to use the advanced application programs, such as word processing and spreadsheet systems.
I might agree with that part about computer literacy, but not about computer science, and definitely not about computer engineering. I occasionally get email from people who are involved in teaching kids about "coding" who want to partner with me because of my website; but I have to tell them that when they're giving the kids GUIs with drag-and-drop programming components (the word "programming" being used quite loosely), the student is not given any understanding whatsoever about what goes on under the hood, and that I don't want to be involved in that kind of "education."
(10-20-2020 07:25 PM)Garth Wilson Wrote: [ -> ]I might agree with that part about computer literacy, but not about computer science, and definitely not about computer engineering. I occasionally get people involved in teaching kids about "coding" who want to partner with me because of my website; but I have to tell them that when they're giving the kids GUIs with drag-and-drop programming components (the word "programming" being used quite loosely), the student is not given any understanding whatsoever about what goes on under the hood, and that I don't want to be involved in that kind of "education."

I agree. I once had a disconcerting experience while studying math in college. I was helping a fellow student with a C programming assignment and I ran into a brick wall trying to explain pointers. This student seemed to grasp most of the language, but drew a complete blank on that key concept, and I didn't manage to get it across, and I just couldn't understand how something so basic could be so hard...

But then again, my own computer journey had started with assembly language programming. It was actually a bit like the Soviet experience, in that I had the course book but no actual computer to run anything on. But thinking about the 8080 CPU and the way it fetches instructions from memory, and what the various instructions can do, that led me to a kind of thinking that has stood me in good stead ever since.
In high school I wrote (and "ran") plenty of programs for the HP-55 on paper, based on a fantastically detailed sales brochure HP provided for the price of a stamp.

Although I didn't get an HP until my first year in college, that introduction to programming a stack-based machine was a real head start for me, too.
Vincent Wrote:An interesting article...

Indeed! I posted about it over here and what came up for me was the training of 100k teachers - both in the USSR and independently in France.

Thomas Okken Wrote:Unlikely? It doesn't sound surprising to me, I thought the Soviets were generally very big on education.
This was my reaction too.

Thomas Okken Wrote:Intersting article, though, and now I am curious about that calculator. Is there any information about the B3-34 on the Internet that isn't in Russian?

Wikipedia says:
Quote:B3-34 used reverse Polish notation and had 98 bytes of instruction memory, four stack user registers and 14 addressable registers. Each register could store up to 8 mantissa or Significand digits and two exponent digits
Russian Wikipedia adds: "speed of about 5 simple operations per second" and "there is a previous result register".

Garth pulls out Fredkin's quote:
Quote:We now understand that computer literacy is not knowing how to program. It is not understanding how [a] computer works. It is not knowing about bits and bytes and flip-flops and gates.... We now know that true computer literacy means having the skills to use the advanced application programs, such as word processing and spreadsheet systems.
"We now know..." Hmm. At least in the UK we knew that once but we now know something different. We call the subject "computational thinking": it's useful for people to know something of how computers, as tools, are used. And in that sense, useful to know how software behaves, and what it's made of. It's not primarily about learning to program but neither is it primarily about using word processors and spreadsheets.
Thomas Okken Wrote:Unlikely? It doesn't sound surprising to me, I thought the Soviets were generally very big on education.
Yes, it's true for the Osblock in general, STEM education was solid (and better than today, IMHO). The other side of the coin was the indoctrination in humanities (well, at least the effort was there, the results not so much :-)).

Thomas Okken Wrote:Intersting article, though, and now I am curious about that calculator. Is there any information about the B3-34 on the Internet that isn't in Russian?

UPDATE -- There is some information linked from the article, but not very complete. I'd be interested to see the programming model explained, and specs like number of program steps and registers etc.
For basic info there are https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elektronika_B3-34 or https://www.rskey.org/b3-34 but I guess you've already seen them. As for programming, my understanding is that it was the more or less the same for all the subsequent models up to MK-52, so if you look at http://www.wass.net/manuals/Elektronika%...nglish.pdf (translated by jebem, I believe) you should get a pretty good overview.
Thank you, Ed and Vaklaff!
(10-20-2020 07:20 PM)Thomas Okken Wrote: [ -> ]Intersting article, though, and now I am curious about that calculator. Is there any information about the B3-34 on the Internet that isn't in Russian?

Once we had the good old M.O.S.C.O.W. site.
Also have a look here.
Thanks Massimo!
Reference URL's