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1847_BabbageA.JPG

1847_BabbageA.JPG


Demonstration of the Babbage machine (wmv video 2 MB)


Back in the 1820s (sic!) Charles Babbage envisioned a calculating machine
to perform mathematical functions and automatically print the results.

Frustrated by human errors, he found in printed numerical tables at the time, he envisioned a machine to do a better job.
The original machine called for 25.000 hand made parts weighing 15 tonnes and being the size of a locomotive.
The plans looked good, but was - alas - never realized during his life time.

But, in 1991, on the bicentennial of his birth, the Science Museum in London unveiled the Difference Engine No. 2,
a fully functional calculating machine, built according to Babbages specs.
Called the Difference Engine because it calculates math functions by using repeated addition, without the use of multiplication or division.
Spinning steel brackets and columns of gearwheels makes for a Victorian age calculator.

Babbage lost financial backing for the Difference Engine, but he nevertheless also thought about building an Analytical Engine.
A machine that would apply many of the same principles found in modern computers, including programmable punch cards, conditional logic and iteration.
Babbage died before he could build it - but Doran Swade, curator at the London Science Museum,
decided to build the Difference Engine No.2. It took him 17 years - but it worked just as Babbage had said it would.
The Engine was ready for the Babbage bicentennial birthday celebrations, but the project ran out of money before the machines typeset and print function was added.
The museum then turned to Microsoft (research) founder and former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft Nathan Myhrvold.
Who agreed to fund the work, if only the museum would build a working copy for him also.

The copy is bound for Myhrvolds living room in Seattle - where it will join his Tyrannosaurus Rex.
But apparently the living room (three stories tall so that his life-sized, real Tyrannosaurus Rex fits) needs some reinforcements,
before it can carry the weight of the Babbage machine.
Meanwhile the Babbage machine is on public display for 6 months at the computer museum in Mountain View, CA.

Obviously the Myhrvold home, on the shores of lake Washington, outside Seattle, will be uber cool.
A front garden planted entirely with vegetation from the Mesozoic era (''If the 'Jurassic Park' thing happens, this is where the dinosaurs will come to eat.''
- according to Myhrvold), a living room with a T-Rex and a Babbage machine - could anyone ask for more?

The Difference Engine No.2. was original designed between 1847 and 1849. The operation is (sort of) explained in the wiki page.

October 2009

www.simonlaub.net

Pics from visit to the Computer Museum, Mountain View, CA. - Visible Storage display items.