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Monday, November 27, 2006

History of Vintage Computing Charles Babbage

Charles Babbage ( 1781-1971) was an English mathematician , was responsible for a major step in the evolution of computers. Babbage , professor of mathematics at Cambridge University , had a reputuation for a quick temper that earned him the nickname "the irascible genius". True to his nature , he bacame annoyed by the mathematical errors he was constantly finding in printed navigational and astronomical tables. He hit upon the idea that these tables could be more accurately calculated by machines. The "difference engine" which was invented in 1822 , was designed specifically to compute polynominals ( the sum of two or more positive terms as X squared +x + 31).

Babbage next went to work on what he called the "analytical engine" . This was a dramtatic improvment over his one task computer: it was a kind of general purpose computer designed to solve any arithmetic problem. In fact , it had most of the elements present today in today's digital computer systems " a "mill" or "processing unit , which manipulated data according to certain rules: a "store" or memory ,which held information : data recorded on punched cards. or input recorded on punched cards , or input , and automatic printing or output. A logical set of instructions led the user to subdivide calcualtions into a steps performed in sequence - in other words , a program - that could be changed.

Babbage got the idea of using punched cards to feed instructions into his huge machine from the invention of a Frenchman named Joseph Mair Jacquard ( 1752 - 1834) . Jacquard had used cards with holes punched in them to activate rods that raised and lowered threads on a weaving machine. A sequence of Jacquard cards produced a pattern in the woven cloth : each sequence of cards ( i.e each program in other words ) produced a different pattern.

However , the machine was very complicated and required thousands of gears. levers . and belts all working together in fine tuned precision . Although Babbage worked on the diffirence egine until his death in 1871 , it was never completed.

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