This is too good to pass up even in my currently busy state.

Boing Boing points at a Scientific American article and an astounding webpage about the Curta, the world’s first mechanical pocket calculator.

I remember seeing this marvel advertised in Scientific American in the late 60’s and even holding one in my hands a little later – I don’t remember who owned it, but it was an extremely sexy piece of machinery. The 17″ PowerBook of its day. Just turning the crank and seeing/hearing/feeling all the little internal gears purring and the numbers clicking into place was geek heaven.

There’s also an extremely interesting interview with Curt Herzstark, the inventor of the device (it’s a 67-page PDF file).

Unfortunately I couldn’t afford the Curta at that time – it cost US$125, if I recall correctly, and there were serious shipping charges and import duties on top of that. I had to content myself with a Faber-Castell duplex slide rule (pictured at top left on the linked page), which was capable of 4 or 5 significant digits and saw me all the way through engineering school. And, from a practical standpoint, did more complex calculations too.

Soon after that, in the early 70s, electronic calculators came up and both the Curta and slide rules became obsolete. I still have my slide rule here nearby, but I regret not having bought a Curta somehow… a specimen in good condition is worth more than US$1000.