The Computer That Never Was–Now Is!
Wired Magazine’s Gadget Blog reports that researchers have actually built a working version of Charles Babbage’s difference engine. Click through the link to see video of the engine in operation.
Charles Babbage completed plans for an elaborate, all-mechanical calculator in 1849. His Difference Engine #2 was so complicated, with more than 8,000 separate parts, that it was never built during his lifetime. But now, thanks to the efforts of dedicated, historically-minded engineers at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, plus a generous donation of cash from Microsoft gazillionaire genius Nathan Myhrvold, Babbage’s Difference Engine is on display in Silicon Valley.
It works. The five-ton bronze, steel and cast iron contraption is operated by a crank handle and can calculate the results of elaborate trigonometric and logarithmic functions with 31 digits of precision. What’s more, it has a printer which stamps the results of its calculations on paper and on a plaster tray, which could be used to create lead type for printing books of mathematical tables.
That’s just unbelievably cool. What a great piece of history to bring to life!