2022-07-22 update

Learning me a Haskell for Great Good

I've decided that I will use Haskell to build the virtual machine. Over the years, I've become less and less interested in using imperative programming. Functional makes much more sense to me. I suppose that should make sense given I am a math person.

I started getting into functional programming with LISP and scheme. As much as I love writing scheme code, after playing around with haskell a little, I think I will get more done with haskell. It seems like it takes less code to write in Haskell than in scheme for one. It's also quite a bit easier to read—and I love s-expressions, so this is a little painful to admit.

So, yeah, the BTVM will be written in Haskell. :)

The Cool Cheka Calculator

As I skim through some books on haskell, I've found myself becoming more interested in mechanical calculators again. Especially the pinwheel variety. Oh the gratifying sound of those gears all crunching in unison as they dumbly compute! Fell asleep so nicely last night just recalling the beautiful sound of these machines. In particular, I've become fascinated by the Soviet-made Felix calculator.

In 1924, Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, started production of these new calculators. Ostensibly, this manufacturing endeavor was undertaken to give the young people of the new Soviet Republic something to do. The calculators themselves were based on the design of the 1873 Odhner calculator—but with zinc alloy gears (instead of brass) to improve operation!

Felix calculators were made as cheaply as possible. Other machines could be fancy, but the Felix machines were made to reach the people who needed them. Despite their low-cost, the simplicity of construction and operation made these calculators exceptionally tough and reliable. And they did end up quite cheap: By the 70's, these machines cost 13 rubles. (That's about 11 USD today according to this routimentary historical currency converter. Take this calculation with a grain of salt. Inflation adjustment calculations are hard enough without also having to consider currency conversions.)

Interestingly, these same pinwheel calculators continued to be manufactured right up to 1978 with just a few dozen design updates. This is interesting to me beacuse the USSR's calculator industry—despite everything—advanced at much the same pace as in richer western nations. I believe it was produced for so long because Felix Dzerzhinsky was a national hero. There are streets named after him. It would make sense that there was some fondness for the outdated machine because it bore his name, but I cannot be sure. A year after the 100th anniversary since the birth of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the calculator was discontinued. :(

Anyway, mechanical calculators are rad, and especially this one because it was made and used in the first socialist country in the world! Read more about Felix calculator at these pages: xnumber's history of soviet calculators, russian language wikipedia entry with basic information about the device, has lots of references to Russian language sources about it, xnumber page for the felix calculator in particular, Jaap Scherphuis' page about the calculator (has lots of pictures!), and this video by Scherphuis showing the basic operation of the device.

Keep it weird.


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