Otona no Kagaku vol. 24, The Age of the Microcomputer

In my previous post, I introduced Otona no Kagaku magazine.  In this installment, I would like to talk about the latest issue on “The Age of the Microcomputer.”  Did you know that a Japanese Engineer, Masatoshi Shima 「嶋正利」, was the primary designer of the first microprocessor?  This is one of the many things I learned from this issue of Otono no Kagaku.

Otona no Kagaku is an interesting magazine by itself but what sets it apart is the Furoku 「ふろく」.  The Otona no Kagaku furoku is cool little kit that complements the magazine.  If you look it up in a Japanese-English dictionary, furoku is generally translated as “supplement” like the color advertizements stuffed into your Sunday Newspaper.  Strictly speaking, the Otona no Kagaku furoku is a supplement as it is an extra that comes along with the magazine but to most readers, it is the main event.  The furoku is the reason they buy the magazine.

Otona no Kagaku magazine, volume 24 is a special edition entitled 「マイコンの時代」, “The Age of the Microcomputer” .  The interesting thing is that this title appears only in small type on the outer cover.  What appears most prominently on the cover, other than the name of the magazine, is 「ふろく4ビットマイコン」which announces the furoku is a 4-bit Microcomputer.  This is a big score.  It’s kind of like getting the little working compass in your box of Cracker Jack.  Now in the age of 64-bit, Quad-Core microprocessors, a 4-bit Microcomputer sounds down right primitive and that is the point.

The complexity of today’s technology can really boggle the mind.  The way I have always kept from being overwhelmed is by breaking down a complex technology into it’s fundamental building blocks.  This is one of the most fundamental strategies known to man, divide and conquer.  The publisher of Otona no Kagaku, Gakken, clearly subscribes to this strategy also.  A 4-bit microcomputer is (arguably) the simplest practical digital computer.  Fundamentally, this 4-bit microcomputer operates in much the same manner as it’s more complex offspring.  Taking on the study of a 4-bit Microcomputer does not seem that intimidating yet, once you understand a microcomputer in 4-bits, all you need to do is duplicate the data paths to get to 8, 16, 32, or 64 bits.

Cover of Otono no Kagaku #24 with callouts to English translation

Cover of Otono no Kagaku #24 with callouts to English translation

Enough of the introduction.  Let’s take a look at the content of the Otona no Kagaku special on “The Age of the Microcomputer.”  The best place to start is to look at the cover.  I have added call outs to a scan of the outer cover to direct you to my translation from the original Japanese
  1. Originator of the magazine with the furoku   Adult Edition  “Science and Learning”  Science for Grown-ups magazine,Vol. 24
  2. Special Edition, Understanding the fundamentals of computers and programming
  3. The Age of the Microcomputer
    It all started with the TK-80
    Picture gallery of famous computers
    The man who made the first CPU, Masatoshi Shima
    I produced artificial intelligence in 4 bits by Satoshi Endo
    How can computers calculate using only 1’s and 0’s?
  4. Sample games are included so you can play right away!
  5. You can enjoy an automatic concert by punching in a melody!
  6. Furoku:  The 4-bit Microcomputer
  7. The simplest programmable computer


Inner cover describes the 4-bit Microcomputer

Inner cover describes the 4-bit Microcomputer

 The furoku (4-bit microcomputer that comes with the magazine) is a wonderful reproduction of a Microprocessor Trainer style computer that was so popular in the early days of microcomputers.  On the inside front cover is a more detailed description of the 4-bit microcomputer and it’s capabilities.  As before, follow the call outs to the corresponding translation below:

  1. Experience the origins of the computer with a nostalgic MyCom!
    30 years ago computers were called MyCom which embodies both the My from Micro and the My as in personal (Com comes from computer).  Included is a nostalgic one board microcomputer consisting of a single circuit board with all the necessary parts are already mounted.  Although it only has a hexadecimal key pad for entry and 7 segment and binary LEDs for output, various programs like games can be built for enjoyment on the MyCom board.  Wouldn’t you like to experience the enjoyment of programming a simple, yet elegant 4-bit microcomputer?  (The MyCom board is a functional reproduction of the “Denshi Block FX-microcomputer” first released in 1981.)
  2. 7 segment numeric LED
    For confirming data entry and display of program execution results
  3. Binary LEDs
    A binary number display for things like the address, also used for LED games
  4. Speaker
    Confirmation sound for “peep peep” input and melody sound output
  5. Hexadecimal Keypad
    A hexadecimal number keypad that can input 0 thru F
  6. Reset Switch
    For resetting the stored program
  7. CPU (central processing unit)
    For storing a program, executing instructions, etc. The heart of a computer.
  8. Features of the MyCom board
    You can make your own programs by punching in (machine language) command codes using the hexadecimal keypad.
    Because it is simple, even a novice can easily operate the MyCom and grasp computer fundamentals.
    Punch in the data for the notes and you can enjoy a melody.
    Even without punching in a program, you can play with your MyCom right away using the 7 sample programs.

    1.  Electronic Organ
    2. Automatic Music Performance
    3. Wack-a-Mole 
    4. Tennis Game
    5. Musical Note Matching Game
    6. Timer
    7. Automatic Morse Code Transmitter
  9. Program and retrofit examples
    Move the MyCom board while the binary LEDs are shining and a picture emerges!
    Control the movements of the tea carrying doll by extracting the on and off states of the binary LEDs!

I hope you agree with me that the Otono no Kagaku with the 4-bit microcomputer sounds like a winner.  Have you bought one for yourself yet?  In my next post, I will assemble the “The simplest programmable computer” and start running it through its paces.

The Denki-Guy


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