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That Dashing Young Man and His — WHAT Machine??

Over at Samizdata, Natalie has posted something on the mewlings of a certain Public Intellectual. One thing led to another with the result that Nick (nice-guy) Gray brought up what he calls “mental pollution.” Through the magic of YrsTrly’s wetware, the same found this, which might provide some entertainment for those Kitties who are loafing around rather than occupying themselves properly with Kounting….

There is a short video of this technological miracle in operation at

http://www.computerhistory.org/babbage/

While there, visitors might wish to consult the Site Map.

16 Comments

  1. John Galt says:

    That’s a picture of Cats new server!

  2. Julie near Chicago says:

    Oh, JG. you are so ba-a-ad!!! LOL

  3. Roue le Jour says:

    I was pretty big on Chas in my younger days and there is no such thing as a “Babbage Engine”, at least not among those who know what they’re talking about.

    Babbage designed two quite different (sorry) machines, the difference engine and the analytic engine. The difference engine (pictured) was a single purpose machine to calculate and print navigational tables, the analytic engine would have been a general purpose computer.

    He came from a banking family and pissed away his family fortune on the difference engine, and was still accused of wasting public money. Philistines.

  4. Kevin B says:

    On the grounds that every post involving difference engines brings at least one ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ response…

    When I were a lad I remember how proud I was building, out of transistors, a machine that could do the whole gamut of 0+0 = 0, 1+0=1, 0+1=1 and the piece de resistance 1+1 =0 (carry 1). Later on, using nands an nors, I expanded this to a whole eight bits.

    Of course unlike the estimable Mr Babbage, this was not original to me but it was fun and educational.

  5. John Galt says:

    Not only was Babbage’s design innovative, it was at the bleeding edge of mechanical engineering precision and there is uncertainty as to whether the full difference engine could have been built during the 1820′s when he was attempting to build it.

    It is often said that Babbage was 100-years ahead of his time, but the two two Scheutz machines built in the 1850′s indicate that construction of the difference engine could have been successfully built by the late-1850′s / early-1860′s.

    The point about Babbage pissing away his money is fair enough, but Georg Scheutz (1785-1873) and his son Edvard (1822-1881) both successfully built engines based upon Babbage’s designs. Both Georg and Edvard went bankrupt as well.

    So maybe there is a correlation between building difference engines and bankruptcy.

    :-)

    I always loved the Meccano one myself…

    http://www.meccano.us/difference_engines/rde_1/

  6. John Galt says:

    There is also a good paper on the subject here:

    http://robroy.dyndns.info/collier/index.html

  7. Sam Duncan says:

    And by spectacular coincidence, this is today’s Wondermark strip.

  8. RAB says:

    What has always pissed me off is that us Brits are very often in the lead with invention and innovation, but when it comes to capitalising on our inventiveness we get elbowed aside by just about everyone.

    Take the Bletchley Park Bombe and Harrison’s Longitude watch, or the Comet etc.

    With the computer that was a real computer that could have been built on, Bletchley Park codebreakers were decades ahead of everyone else in the computing field. But what did we do? We mothballed it and denied its very existence for fear of someone finding out how we broke all those codes in WW2. Until America roared past us in the inside lane.

    And John Harrison’s watches. He cracked the problem of Longitude after many patient attempts, but when it was obvious that it worked he still had to prise the money from the Prize Committee ( give the money to a bloody jumped up carpenter!?…) It took an Act of Parliament to get his money in the end.

    It seems to me that this country has always had incredible individual inventiveness, but collective and Governmental pig ignorance that had no imagination and bordered on willful stupidity. It comes back to our ruling classes distain of anything smacking of “Trade”.

  9. John Galt says:

    Had to micturate on your fireworks, but although some of the earlier machines were dismantled at least two were transported from Bletchley Park to GCHQ and were in operation until 1959 & 1960 respectively.

    It is not known when they ceased active monitoring, but during the latter years they were used as training machines for signals intelligence.

    Although credit must be given to Alan Turing for the theoretical aspects, it was the GPO’s Tommy Flowers who used his knowledge of electronic switching in telephone exchanges to make a workable machine (the original COLLOSUS) at his own expense in the light of bureaucratic skepticism and intransigence.

    More short-sighted ignorance from our ruling elite.

  10. RAB says:

    Only a partial piddle on my pyrotechnics John. ;-) Sending two to GCHQ was effectively hiding the technology wasn’t it? Not opening it up to development and study by 60′s Uni students, especially with the advent of the transistor over valves and then the silicon chip. We could have been bleedin miles ahead.

  11. John Galt says:

    C’est la vie, mon ami.

    C’est un conte raconté par un idiot avec beaucoup de bruit et de chaleur, et qui ne signifie rien.

  12. RAB says:

    In the words of Eric Morecombe…

    That’s easy for you to say!

  13. Roue le Jour says:

    John Galt, my recollection is a large part of Babbage’s problems was the guy he got to build it, who although capable of the work, wanted to get rich out of it.

    Is that true about bombs going to GCHQ? I’d never heard that before. I understood they were all destroyed on the orders of the US. Seems plausible though.

    And indeed, hats off to Tommy Flowers.

  14. John Galt says:

    Regarding the bomb(e)s themselves, specifically the pre-COLOSSUS devices used to decrypt Enigma, these were originally based upon the Polish design by Marian Rejweski, Henryk Zigalski and Jerzy Rózyki of the Biuro Szyfrów (Polish Cipher Bureau) between 1932 and 1939 when they were destroyed during the fall of Poland.

    The British “bomb(e)s” used the same principles for decryption, but a radically different design. Again Alan Turing was key to the new design, but was founded upon the same weaknesses in Enigma discovered by the Poles.

    The “bomb(e)s” were used for deciphering the majority of Enigma ground traffic, but at the end of the war they were surplus to requirement and all of the “bomb(e)s” were destroyed. None survived the war and the ones on display at Bletchley Park are 1990′s reconstructions.

    Of the COLOSSUS machines (used for deciphering Lorenz SZ-40/42 traffic), all of the earlier machines including Tommy Flowers original Mark 1 were broken up and their parts either recycled or destroyed.

    Only the 2 final machines, codenamed “Colossus Blue” and “Colossus Red” as well as a couple of Tunny machines were saved from Bletchley Park and moved to GCHQ, where they were used until 1959 and 1960 respectively, initially for deciphering, but eventually just for training.

    It is sad that such monumental parts of computing history were simply destroyed on the pretext of “National Security”, but at least with the reconstructions we can get a glimpse of those dark, far-off days when Britain stood alone and people like Alan Turing and Tommy Flowers showed that it takes more than just might of arms to win a war.

  15. John Galt says:

    @RAB:

    So you call yourself a man of culture, yet you don’t know your Shakespeare in French?

    Good god man, what sort of education do call that.

    :-)

  16. RAB says:

    Cheeky bugger! Yes I know my Shakespeare in French, but do the French know their Shakespeare in French… Zat is de question!

    Always remember that my default position is taking the piss ;-)

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