Saturday, August 11, 2007

Retro gadgets

The mini-series My museum of content-related artefacts was mentioned on the Dutch language website Bright. Tonie van Ringelenstein wrote a bullet under the title Dutch weblog museum with retro gadgets. Nice title, I must say as I never thought of the term retro gadget, but thought more in terms of vintage devices for professional usage. However the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, mentioned in the mini-series were more for private use.

But challenged by the word retro gadget, I found another favourite in my museum: Speak & Spell, probably the first e-lrearning device. My copy was manufactured in Italy and bears the serial number RCI 3183. It was a popular electronic toy for children consisting of a speech synthesizer (TMS5110) and a keyboard. The device is powered by four C batteries, or 6 VDC input (on right side of unit). It has a built-in speaker on face, a fluorescent display.and a membrane keyboard. It marked the first time the human vocal tract had been electronically duplicated on a single chip of silicon.

According to Wikipedia the Speak & Spell was created by Paul Breedlove, an engineer with Texas Instruments during the late 1970s. Speak & Spell was the first of a three-part talking educational toy series that also included Speak & Read and Speak & Math. The Speak & Spell was sold, with regional variations, in the United States, Canada, and in Europe. It was introduced at the summer Consumer Electronics Show in June 1978.

The Speak & Spell learning aid functioned much like a parent preparing a student for a spelling quiz. It would say the word, allow the pressing of keys labeled with the alphabet to spell out the word, then report on the result of the effort.

We bought the gadget for our daughter just before we moved to London in 1983. The 8 year old girl did not know a word in English and had to have a crash course. Day after day we heard the synthetic voice of the gadget approving or disapproving the result of keying. It was (or better it is as the device still works) a boring voice, but the method was effective.

Blog Posting Number: 836


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