Life Of Navin

Random Musings, Random Bullshit.


150 year Old Supercomputer

Designed by the 19th Century computer pioneer Charles Babbage, the Difference Engine No 2 is a piece of Victorian technology meant to compute mathematical expressions which are today known as polynomials and return results to more than 31 digits, knocking the socks off your souped up pocket calculator.

Added to that it has a printer which stamps the results of its calculations on paper and on a plaster tray.

You can stand in front of this monster of a machine as a Victorian would have done and still have the sense of wonder a Victorian would have had at that time,

Regardless of the obvious beauty of the machine, Babbage's vision for it was very practical. To eliminate human error in tabulation.

Everyone from financiers to scientists and from engineers to astronomers relied on printed mathematical tables and the fear was that these tables were riddled with errors because they were produced by humans and by hand.

Despite Babbage's reputation and government backing, the machine was never manufactured.

The plans were consigned to the dustbin of history until they were fished out by Mr Swade when he was working at the Science Museum in London. While there he went on to create the world's first Difference Engine No 2. which was completed in 1991.

Babbage failed because of the limitations of the technology of the time.

Had Charles Babbage been able to build this machine and had he been able to convey this extraordinary vision to his contemporaries, they would have been inspired not to drop the ball.

There would not have been what has been called the 100 dark years between his death and the beginning of the electronic era in the 1930s where pioneers of the electronic computer age reinvented all the essential principles of computing largely in ignorance of Babbage's designs.

The second Difference Engine No 2 took six years to build, weighs five tonnes and uses 8,000 bronze, iron and steel parts.

When cranked by hand, it performs a balletic symphony as the various bronze columns crunch the numbers.

There is some debate as to whether or not it is a supercomputer or a super calculator.

At that time ,the people who did the low-level repetitive arithmetic operations were called computers and this machine was designed to replace that labour.

For the next year, the Difference Engine No 2 will be on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.

Though Babbage failed to realise what some describe as his greatest invention, he did not sit back and throw in the towel.

This 19th Century pioneer has left his mark on the world in a myriad of other ways.

He is also credited with inventing the dynamometer, standard railroad gauge, the heliograph ophthalmoscope, occulting lights for lighthouses, uniform postal rates, Greenwich time signals and the cowcatcher, which was mounted on the front of locomotives to push cows off the tracks to help prevent trains being derailed!!!!




Finally after all these years, here's to the beginning of what was there, what is there and hopefully what will remain!! So here are my thoughts & words -Online!!

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