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April 30, 2012


The London Science Museum has a mechanical difference engine, built from Babbage's design. The design has the same precision on all columns, but when calculating polynomials the precision on the higher-order columns could be lower. The Engine is not a replica (one was never built during Babbage's lifetime); therefore this is the first one - the original.

Of course, the Analytic Engine will be much more complex. I wonder if I'll ever see it.

BTW, I just passed a heads-up about your blog article to my good friend Norbert Ryska, curator of the HNF, the world's biggest computer museum (www.hnf.de) :-)

Thanks for the URL, Stu, and how kind of HNF to include web pages in more than one language. (You know the appalling state of my German.) Let's hope that you get to see the Analytic Engine!
Your referral makes me giddy - I feel that my little blog has hit the big time.

Wouldn't that make a great alternative history SF novel? What if computers were manufactured and used in the 1800's?

if you permit Napier's Bones, then high precision mechanically assisted calculation (*,/,sqrt) was being done in 1617. :-)

Wow! Our society would be quite different now if computers had come into existence so long ago.

Hattie--You and Stu should take care of that, nicely!

Stu--One thing about Napier's Bones: the human/machine interface would have been much easier to understand than those to our electronic machines. Just think how much effort has been expended in the past 60 years trying to make our electronic computers user friendly.

Joared--It all depends upon what one calls a "computer". As Stu points out, the electronic version wasn't the first computer. (In my first job with Boeing, before having completed my bachelor's degree, my job title was "Computer D".) Like the abacus, which I rarely use, my slide rules do a fine job of computing things for me - and they scoff at power failures and dead batteries.
Have you ever worked with nomograms? I had a drafter construct a couple of them for me (during that stint with Boeing) as a portable calculator for a given mathematical problem. The use of a nomogram is easily taught to others who are not mathematically inclined.

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