Journey to the depths of the Soviet b3-34 calculator

There has hitherto been little acknowledgement of the pivotal role of the B3-34 Soviet programmable calculator in popularising difficult topics like marine and space exploration. Sergei Frolov (author of essays like Bugs, Undocumented and Interesting Features of Soviet Calculators and an interesting introduction to early Soviet semiconductors, and a pretty good photographer of butterflies) is determined to change all this. Here, for example, is his representation of a spaceship on the dark side of the moon, where E is the earth, 0 the moon, and – the ship:


What could be simpler and more charming? On page 2, however, mood and metaphor change, and we begin to hunt arithmetic monsters in the depths of a numeric ocean, an “employment fascinating and in a number of cases unsafe.” Here Mr Frolov – who is nothing if not thorough – gives us a taxonomy of the calculator’s deep water world:

The depths (exponents) up to 100 are populated with usual numbers. Following “floor” (from 100 up to 200) belongs errors. Even deeper (from 200 up to 300) lives by errors – it is easy to tame creations, contrary to the frightening kind, in a maximum degree useful, them.

Further (from 300 up to 400) the settlement of wild and unrestrained monsters ready at a slightest oversight on the part of a hunter to result the program in unsuitability and to force him to switch off the calculator power.

The following floor (from 400 up to 500) is populated by OC-monsters – with essences very useful, but, in turn, subdivided on numerous family. Even below (from 500 up to 600) the possession of Darkness settle down, at any contact to this mysterious and severe substation the indicator dies away, and it is necessary to disconnect the calculator (we shall note, that it is possible casually to meet with Darkness and on other floors).

Deeper, for limits of Darkness, it is possible to penetrate only with the help special “Diving equipment ” (appropriate programs): the depths from 600 up to 700 are populated sluggish with slow error-monsters, is even lower (from 700 up to 800) the slow monsters live, whose behavior nevertheless force to recollect of monsters of the 4-th floor and hunt which on proceeds similarly.

Lonely and desolate the world inside the Soviet B3-34 calculator may be, but a somewhat underdeveloped sub-plot ensures that there is something in this work for eveyone. The following scene is finer even than the best efforts of the Balearic beard, Baltasar Porcel:

Not the truth whether, situation strongly reminds, when conjurer on your eyes takes from yours hats at first of alive rabbit, and then also grunting pig? Only here and in a role conjurer, and as a hat the calculator acts.

This is an extraordinary, crazy resource, a labour of a very strange type of love. Sergei wants $100,000 for what is surely a unique collection of calculators, and that seems fair enough, but read the parting line of his epic:

… the indicator dies away, Darkness…

That’s Random House, babe, that’s millions.

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