Before the digital era, there were still computers. These mechanical computers performed their tasks using clever set-ups instead of operations on ones and zeros.
The video embedded below is an analog Fourier transform calculator. All of us use Fourier transforms every day; they are used to compress data, as in jpegs and mp3s. Fourier transforms can represent an oscillatory signal by its frequency components, and they can re-create the signal again from those frequency components.
To me, this computer is what steam punks dreams to be. Its gears, levers, springs, and cranks work in mesmerizing motion, but even better, they do something, something that by hand takes a long time to do. Asimov books talk about gears and cranks and such in spaceships, and it’s these kinds of machines that I imagine fill his worlds.
Check out the video, as well as the videos that explain how signals are both synthesized and analyzed with this machine. These videos fill me with awe on this otherwise bogged-down Monday morning.