Feeds

Babbage's Difference Engine hits Silicon Valley

Wafers? Nah. How about bronze and wood?

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Silicon Valley got its first look at the true roots of the digital age this week, with the arrival of a five-ton calculator made from the designs of the Victorian-age mathematician and Londoner, Charles Babbage.

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California is hosting the second replica of Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2.

Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2

The difference engine is astoundingly complex, housing more than 8,000 parts made of steel, bronze, iron and wood. So ambitious and ahead of his time was his design that Babbage was never able to complete the device, due in part to the unsophisticated engineering processes of the 19th century and a withdrawal of lavish funding from the British government.

Babbage's machine, using no electronic parts, adds with numbers up to 31 digits long to calculate polynomials up to the seventh order. It's capable of cranking out — literally cranking out — polynomials at the rate of one per six seconds.

Get yer' hand-cranked polynomials here

A view from the side

Looking close at the decimal columns

Although it was never built in his time, Babbage's engine is now considered the first known example of a automatic computational machine. The device also included plans for a printing device that would have been the first automated typesetter, capable of text wrap, two font sizes, and could be directed to print different column widths and line spacing.

But when Babbage died in 1871, he left behind only 20 pages of drawings and instructions on the device, and his hope for vindication from future generations.

Babbage, the original steampunk

Ye Olde PC Load Letter? What the...?

"Another age must be the judge," he wrote.

The first working model of Babbage's difference engine began construction in 1991 — some 142 years later than intended — by the Science Museum in London. Using his original design notes and materials that would have been available to Babbage at the time, the builders proved his astounding machine would have worked exactly as planned.

There on display, the completed device caught the eye of former Microsoft chief technical officer and millionaire, Nathan Myhrvold, who in 2002 commissioned a second difference engine of his own.

Only finished last month, the second difference engine replica will be on display at the Computer History Museum until May 2009. After that, it will be moved to Myhrvold's home in the Seattle area. And if this monster isn't a convenient conversation starter, we don't know what is. ®

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
Apple iPhone 6: Missing sapphire glass screen FAIL explained
They just cannae do it in time, says analyst
Quit drooling, fanbois - haven't you SEEN what the iPhone 6 costs?
How keen will buyers be when exposed to the real price?
Slap my Imp up: Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper
Monsters need to earn a living too
Amazon axes hated Fire Phone price: 99 pennies but a niche? Ain't none
Forgive the double negative but seriously, no one wants this mobe
Apple's big bang: iPhone 6, ANOTHER iPhone 6 Plus and WATCH OUT
Let's >sigh< see what Cupertino has been up to for the past year
The Apple Watch and CROTCH RUBBING. How are they related?
Plus: 'NostrilTime' wristjob vid action
Oh noes, fanbois! iPhone 6 Plus shipments 'DELAYED' in the UK
Is EMBIGGENED Apple mobile REALLY that popular?
Apple's SNEAKY plan: COPY ANDROID. Hello iPhone 6, Watch
Sizes, prices and all – but not for the wrist-o-puter
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.