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back to article Boffins step closer to steam-powered Babbage computer

A project to build British mathematician Charles Babbage's mechanical computer has won assistance from the Science Museum in London. The museum has begun digitising Babbage's plans and notebooks so that John Graham-Cumming, the programmer and computer historian behind the project, and his team can begin work. Babbage first …

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Nice

I hope I will see it working in my lifetime!

Although to be honest, to "understand how computers work" you only really need an abacus. Less fancy, but also much less expensive!

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MCG
FAIL

Eh?

Methinks you should go look out that ancient "How Computers Work" book and toil over it until you discover the startling reason why true computers differ from mere calculators (such as abaci). Or then again, you could just Google it.

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Eh!

In the case of the abacus the program is "entered" by the user's fingers, not punchcards, but it is perfectly possible to demonstrate how computers work (including some pretty complex notions of programming) using only an abacus. Some people even build binary abaci especially for the purpose of teaching how binary computers work, although with the right conception you can manipulate pretty much any set of conceptual objects with an abacus.

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PS

Calling abaci "mere calculators" is an insult to both abaci and calculators. Although an abacus can be used for calculation, it is only an abstraction tool; the "calculator" would be the system [abacist abacus]. The same system can be a full-fat -although not very fast- "computer", and more, with the right abacist. The abacus is not limited to binary, either, which is very interesting for CS teaching purpose; although it is not possible to model a real quantic computer at the iron level with a reasonnably-sized single-frame abacus, you'll note that Babbage's machine is not more helpful in that case.

Actually it might just be possible to model a quantic computer using a multiframe abacus, I'll give it some thought.

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FAIL

There is no program in an abacus

The program is in the users head.

The abacus itself is just a memory.

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In the words of Deep Thought

"The Milliard Gargantubrain, A mere abacus"

(RIP Douglas Adams)

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Brilliant

What a fantastic initiative. Love it. Can't wait to see it realised.

On a similar note, didn't someone build a difference machine out of Meccano, or something?

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Happy

Re: My Earlier Post

Yep, a quick Google and there you have it:

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

Quality!

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Bits of the Analytical Engine have been built in Meccano and also in Lego, but nobody has yet built the whole thing (that i know of).

As for differential analysers, ie analog computers, Meccano is a favourite material for these, Barnes Wallis even had one for helping with his Bouncing Bomb calculations.

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WTF?

Must. Read. Slower.

I read that as cabbage-powered steam computer.

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Pint

Re: Must. read. Slower.

I'm glad I'm not the only one to make that mistake!!

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Anonymous Coward

that...

> cabbage-powered steam computer.

... would be the one somewhere on the plains around Ankh-Morpork...

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Joke

Just don't load iOS or Windows on it. As an unapproved piece of hardware they will sue you.

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Happy

Actually it's going to run Windows ME. It's the only hardware platform that will run ME for longer than 5 minutes!

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Anonymous Coward

Of course.

Of course. And at least it will be on a computer that crashes properly!

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Pint

@alannorthants

Only because it takes 5 minutes to execute the first 10 instructions of the BIOS...

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Boffin

An issue for steam-powered computers...

... is that of heat transmission.

One of the "computing engines" in the Science Museum's collection is Carter's Ringing Machine. This was devised circa 1900 by Mr Carter, who was a Birmingham Bell-ringer, and -- for afficionados it was capable of ringing Stedman Triples on hand bells via an electro-mechanical linkage. The problems was that with the original steam engine, heat was transmitted via the drive shaft into the system causing sufficient expansion for the tolerances to be exceeded and the machine to seize.

In more recent times, the machine has rung a "full extent" of Stedman Triples (that's all 7! = 5040 changes or about three hours), using an electric motor as power supply. It's worth a look if you can get the curator to give you a private demonstration.

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Boffin

Seems like a simple fix...

Use a drive belt between the steam engine and 'computing engine'?

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Fantastic!

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Love it, but...

can it play crysis while tweetbooking about my cloud-enabled, social, geotagged bowel movements?

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No

they gave up on Crysis comparability when they decided to go for a tablet form factor.

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Anonymous Coward

Tweeting about it, yes.

Cloud-enabled, yes.

Geotagged, yes. (via contact-less methods one hopes)

But social? My mind spins trying to understand any way in which bowel movements can be social.

But if you are having trouble, a good blast with steam should sort things out.

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Coat

Crysis.

Youll need the upgrade. That version has two boilers powering it, providing Steam Linked Injection. Each boiler has two fireboxes and the whole thing is arranged so that the four fireboxes are in a cruciform arrangement to maximise space for stoking, known as four-way cross fire.

Coming soon from Antique Macro Devices......

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Coat

Or just use Parson's steam turbine

The Babbage engine in turbo mode

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But what happens

when it gets a virus?

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Difference-Engine-Gollancz-S-F/dp/0575600292

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Pint

Would Be Fun...

...to load the dimensions into a proper CGI rendering engine.

We should be able to see the virtual Babbage machine in action. Perhaps degubbing prior to physical build.

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Networked Babbages

The first commercial telegraph was in 1839. If two Babbage machines had been created around the same time and placed 10 miles or so apart... see where I'm going here?

19th Century steam-powered networked computers.

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Terminator

I do see where you're going with this...

http://www.ironicsans.com/images/steampunkterminator.jpg

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Happy

You'd need a babbage-fish for the translation layer.

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Anonymous Coward

Forbin project was my first thought

:l

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Happy

@ Disco-Legend-Zeke

That degubbing sounds serious. Are you seeing a doctor about it?

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Happy

Be carefull

Or you might step on a Microsoft patent.

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Happy

And beware of round corners too.

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Devil

@lars

>> And beware of round corners too.

Too right.. cause everyone knows the steam powered ipad is prior art!

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Steampunked computer

It's gotta have lots of brass! lots and lots of brass!

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Stop

Apple

sues in 5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ...

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So if you create this in AutoCAD, Inventor or similar...

...and then run it in a simulation...

...does that mean that your CAD program is a hypervisor?

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Pint

Typical government computing project....

..only 150 years late on delivery this time.....

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Sadly ....

.. it was lack of government, or other, funding that shelved both major projects. Had funding and foresight been in abundance at the time, the machines could have, amongst other things of course, calculated highly accurate ranging tables for the navy etc and we would have really, really have been ruling the waves then.

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Power!

An astounding 3 flops per second!

Has anyone calculated the number Watts per operation this beast will require?

Grind grind grind.....

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Anonymous Coward

MIPW might be a better measure

I have not looked at the actual specs, but I'd be very surprised if it can do *any* floating point operations, let alone 3 per second.

Ok, sure you can probably emulate a flop ... once per week.

I think performance should be measured in MIPW (Million Instructions Per Week).

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Why should it not be able to do floating point?

Perhaps the body should be optional too.

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Interesting error messages, etc

"unexpected washer in line 50"

Also I note it could be powered by renewables - eg a waterwheel or wind turbine. Very Eco.

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You sir, owe me a new keyboard

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Anonymous Coward

finally a computer that does not require electricity

might be useful when solar flares take out all silicon computer

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FAIL

Seriously? No one?

Nobody has mentioned "The Difference Engine" by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson? Progenitor of all recent steampunk, where Babbage perfects his Analytical Engine in his lifetime? Not one of you? Oh, the shame.

Go read it!! It's ace.

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"The Difference Engine" is a great read.

For a factual account Tom Standage's "Victorian Internet" [1998] is also well worth a read.

Digital store and forward communications networks - just like the Internet -

in the 18th (yes 18th) century.

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It's a good book

But it feels like it's building up to a better ending than it actually has.

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Also, I believe Neal Stephenson has a difference engine plot thread ...

... somewhere in his Baroque Trilogy.

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