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Thread: Charles Babbage

  1. #1 Charles Babbage 
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    Hello, my name is Matthew T. Smith. I am a young eager student of Computer Science. I am unable to go to College either because of financial difficulties or bad credit with colleges. However my sense of passion to study the field drives me, and have taken it upon myself to educate myself (with the help of a local library.) I have written a paper and was looking for a forum in which to post it, and have come across this one. I hope my report is insightfull. All comments, critiques are welcome, as I depend on feedback to better my own understanding of the studied topics. The first I'd like to post is a paper i've written on Charles Babbage.

    How Society may have Evolved with a Functional Difference Engine in the mid-1800's
    by
    Matthew T. Smith
    12/2010
    Draft

    Introduction: My name is Matthew Smith, and I am a young man begining my study's in Computer Science. The following is a written work by me, after researching Charles Babbage and his "Difference Machine," that he designed in the 1800's.
    I have just finished reading, "The Difference Engine," by Doron Swade. Before I begin, I would like to explain that this paper is a two-part essay. The first is a summary of what I have learned of my research on Charle's Babbage, and the second part is the assignment. The assignment itself is a 'what-if' story/theory, had the Difference Machine been completed and commercialy mass-produced.
    Part I Essay: Charles Babbage (1791-1871), was a nineteenth century mathemetician that attended Cambridge University in London and graduated with an MA. It all started when he was still a young man working for the Astronomical Society. His responsibilities were to check the accuracies of mathmatical tables for errors. He was the son of a rich banker, Benjamin Babbage. He designed the Difference and Analytical Engines. He was only able to produce a partialy completed Difference Engine, and his Analytical Engine never left the drawing board.
    In the 1800's, humans were the first calculators and computers. They mostly were consisted of laid off hairdressers, as there was a recession for them during the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Their duties were to create mathmatical tables for various necessesary tasks for everyday buisness. From sea-charting, astrology, and buisness ledgers, you needed a logarithm table. Human beings are incapable of performing perfect complex math logarithms in their heads, so tables were neccessary. In order to try to ensure accuracy in the creation of these tables, two people were assigned the same task of calculating the same math operation. Afterwards, the two tables would be compared by a third party to see if the logarithms were correct. Sometimes 90 people in a group were necessary to perform 3 different levels of calculations.
    Babbage became fed up one day, with his friend, John Herschall, with the human errors in the tables (2-3000 errors usually). This frustration precipitated an idea for a device that could calculate math more accurately. He had alot of friends in "high-places." His fellow students held high positions in the Royal Society and government, and was well liked by those around him. As such, he gained support from the Government to recieve funds to create a "Difference Engine." This was all well and good in the beginning.
    He ran into the following issues during it's construction:
    The first of many dilemeas were aquiring adequate parts for the machine. The design for it was ahead of its time and required pricision parts to accomplish such a feat. Interchangable screws, bolts, etc. were not manufactured to precision like they can be made to today (ie. molds or casts for mass-producing screws and other everyday tools we see today). So Babbage had to hire a draughtsman to invent new tools, in turn, to invent the required parts. Invention precipated need for new inventions to reach his objective to create his theoretical device, the Difference Engine.
    The second issue was that the precisionist draughtsman he hired, Joseph Clement (also ahead of his time as a draughtsman because of his famed precision), may have purposly delayed the project for his own personal financial gain, and constant arbitration battles during the 1830's, over matters of payment from Babbage and patent on the Engine. This problem would lead us to the third issue.
    Money. Lot's of money. The Government ended up shelling out close to 17,500 lbs for the project, but was no where near enough. Babbage ended up paying out of his own pocket for the amenities he needed. Babbage's views back then were 'liberal' and his ideas were 'new'. As a result, he had a very hard time dealing with the conservitives that would have been benefactors.
    The timeframe the initial funds were given, was after the Nopoleonic war with the French. I would like to personally assume that during this time, money for scientific progress may have been a little easier to give at this point in history. I base this on the fact that Babbage was declined further funding later on when new political issues arised later on. He was denied in the 1840's. Babbage made an appeal to the Government. Henry Goulburn Chancellor and Robert Peel (Lord of Treasury), ultimately denied funding, due to it being a time of riots and the building of the Caledonian Canal. Also at this point, Babbage had lost credability because of the first failed Difference Engine, and the time it took to create it. The problem was completely economic. The treasury's view, is that they would have paid more into the project, than to profit anything from the completed machine, if at all. Although it would have been convieniant (had it worked), it was way to costly to manufacture. They estimated that on top of the 17,000 lbs plus the additional resources needed would come to an estimated total of 40,000 lbs. This was out of the question at this point in time.
    That estimate, had it gone through, probably wouldn't have been enough, due to the nature of trial and error needed to exact the machine to working specifications. Also at this point, critics began to circulate their scepticsm behind closed doors as the decades went on, which certainly didn't help matters. Babbage was excentric, and craved public attention to his accomplishments, which added fuel to the fire. The project was already behind, and no working prototypes of Difference Engine No 2, were completed.
    The fourth issue was time. Babbage had setbacks, that we in present, could not blame the man. He lost his father, wife, daughter, and unborn child within a 10 month period in 1827. Georgiana, his wife, was the one constant source of encouragement, and the absense of nurturing that kept him going amidst all the hecklers in the past, made the project painstaking. A loss like this cost him 10 years of grief. After he jumped back on board the project, it became a source of expression and obsess.
    The man sacraficed better financial opportunities to complete his machine in the name of science. Eventually the stress got to him, and he occationally wrote beligerant letters to the Royal Society, for lack of recognition for his sacrafices and inovation. Babbage was the kind of person that followed a strict ethical code of giving credit where credit was do. Whether it be for himself, or for another man's accomplishments. This is ironic since he was rarely, if at all, recognized for his tribulations.
    The project was inevidably canceled in 1842, due in major part by Babbage's famed sceptist, George Biddell Airy, who was seated at the Astronomical Society, and influencial to Goulborne and Peel's decision to fund Babbage further. Ultimately, further treasury funding was revoked to Babbage.
    Babbage came up with a design for a new 'Analytical Engine,' which was to surpass the 'Difference Engine'. It's function was to calculate/compute more complex logarithms as well as print them. The design had a place to store numbers (what we would call 'memory'), and mill to calculate the operations (what we would call CPU's today in computers), while at the same time, print them on papper. Or, if chosen, cast them in paper mache' so that many copies could be printed of the error-free math tables. The machine itself was overly complicated to build, but genius at the same time. To have the machine to caculate a math problem, one merely had to 'set the dails/gears' and use punch-cards (much how I.B.M.'s Hollerith machines were run during the WWII era) and turn a crank handle to commence the operation of the device. The punchcards were used to 'program' the machine with the pre-set instruction on how to handle the mathmatical problem. This is the first evidence we see in what we would now call 'conditional-branching,' which is a common element to programming today. The cards instructed the machine how to perform the next operation. If a certain conclusion was reached, and 'if else', it would calculate the other operation it needed. Basicaly, a contingensy operation would be performed should a certain result were calculated.
    Alas, Babbage never completed the machine. He wasn't even able to launch the Alpha Phase for his Analytical machine. It all stayed on the drawing board. He spend the last years of his life tweaking, and analysing his design, trying to fix errors that may crop up, and fix jamming issues. It was never put into practice in his lifetime. He died while being harassed by street performers. They were spitefull towards him because he reported them as a public disturbance to the local authorities. As it is in the present, they never did anything about it. And from what I read, they were indeed a disturbance.
    The re-creation project which was completed in 1991 (the bicentenial anniversery of Babbage's Death 200 years later), cost well over 240,000 lbs., using period specific equipment. The machine was finished by, Doron Swade, Barrie Halloway, Reg Crick, and many others. They had the same problems Babbage had with raising funds and in conrast as I was reading the book, they faced paralled financial and time set-backs to Babbage's. They also faced the same fears of not completing the project by their bicentenial deadline. But they were able to pull it off. Mainly, in my belief, because Swade had more tact than Babbage did with the public benefactors and exceeded moreso in the way he handled the social graces of those that could help them. I.B.M. was to be the main contributer in the beggining, and to be the sole proprietary for the project but they bailed out due to personal company financial issues. This was a major blow.
    They took on the project to prove if Babbage could have done it if Babbage had the resources and money available to him.
    I have alot of notes of on the book, and an overflowing passion to express critical points, but I know I have to keep this short. I know that I probably am not doing justice to the research done on this man or by the information provided in Swade's book, but I digress and will do my best. But I strongly recommend to anyone wanting to do research on Charles Babbage and the first computer to read Doran Swade's "The Difference Machine." It is a good read and provides profound insight to his life as well as the labor, sacrafice, and struggle to invent what could have been the first computers that we use today. The book also catagorizes full reference resources to Babbage's written works, museams, and organizations that go into the history of Babbage and his Difference Machine and Analytical Engine designs.

    Essay II: What if?
    I believe that if certain criteria were changed a little, history may have taken a different direction. Going back to the beggining with Clement for example, is a good place to start. Let's change Clement's character a bit. Instead of him prolonging things, and trying to get the better part of the deal, let's give him a more pro-active role in the assistance of the machine's creation. I believe that 'if' Clement outsourced and used his invention of tools to create the Babbage engine, patent the tools, and took the effort to get his tools to be 'breakthrough inventions' of his own, he would have had stablized his own financial income. There's a corporate empire all on it's own as a interchangable tool manufacturer.
    Therefore, he may have not quibbled so much about his services and chalk his work up to the contribution of science and human evolution. (I know what your thinking. The world doesn't work that way, even today. We might as well ask a magical unicorn to ride ourselves into space. But let's assume it's true!) Babbage would probably have trimmed 3-5 years or more off of the development process, and made sufficiant progress. This I believe would have bought him at least a little more time with the top brass, as there would have been some progress to report to them.
    Let's also change Georgiana and her abrupt appointment with death. Let us presume she had lived for at least another 10-20 years. Had she recieved our modern healthcare, she might have, afterall. Babbage would have recieved the encouragement he needed. His 'stress' would have at least a 'cool-down' point in his daily struggle with the contraption. He would have some type of outlet, and instead have recieved the reasurance, and the positive element we as humans attract to, and to go on with his endeavors through that companionship. Instead of Babbage mourning his loss and putting off the project for 10 years, he would have had the benefit of complaining about the progress of his machine to his wife.
    Also, there is Babbage's inablility to control himself when he was 'overlooked' or 'wronged'. Instead of blowing up, let's pretend he was able to keep his faculties together during the 'confrontational' times and more like a buisnessman. In this circumstance, he might have been more appealing to his benefactors. Another theory would be, he could have hired a 'PR' guy to represent his project to the officials.
    Keeping all these alternate scenario's in mind, I believe that the time it took would have been reduced by at least 15-20 years to get to the point where he left off. Perhaps another 2-3 years to proof-read/Debug his machine and finally complete it, with the printing device and all. (Assuming his line of inventive thinking would not have been altered by changing the above mentioned 'alternative' historical scenarios.) Then having his machine exhonerated, and Babbage recieving the awards that were due, etc. And finally, having his machine mass produced and used by the world. This would probably have led to 'much earlier' invention of the PC.
    As I stated before, Invention of one thing, can result in the requirement of inventing many others. For example I will digress for a moment. Here is a list of just some of the inventions and accomplishments that Babbage made, along-side the Difference Engine...
    Cited: The Difference Engine by Doron Swade p. 178
    "We have already met his plans for cow-catchers, 'black box' recorders for railways, failsafe quick-release couplings for railway carriages, and his calash - the specially built camper he had made in Vienna while on his Continental tours." "...-a pen with a rotatable disc for drawing broken lines on maps, a chart recorder for logging the condition of railway tracks, and theatre lighting using couloured filters for his 'Rainbow Dance'." "There are many other devices he proposed or designed without constructing them - a tugboat for winching vessels upstream, diving bells, a submarine propelled by compressed air, an altimeter for measuring height above sea level, a seismograph for detecting geophysical shocks such as earthquakes, a flat-bottomed boat, an astronomical micrometer, a 'coronograph', and a lifebuoy with a self-igniting mechanism..."

    There is much more written. My point is, that any of the inventions could have very well been worked upon and 'upgraded' to similiar technology we see today. A plethera genesis of devices that would precipitate tools we use today. We see everyday, past inventions leading to new modern inventions. We take what is already existing knowledge to us, improve upon it, test it, and we do so to see if we can create new inventions. This is Science. Babbage, to me, was not just a mathmetician. He was a scientist with quite a few specialties.
    There has been alot of debate upon whether Babbage furthered science or set us back with the computer age, because of the failure with the 'Difference Engine'. Calculation engine inventions were harshly looked at after seeing what Babbage had been through. It probably discouraged alot of people to approach this kind of machine. (It was probably too complex for most people.)
    This is the ultimate conclusion I have reached during my research, and hopefully a grand exit to my essay.
    Conclusion: Whether or not Babbage's Difference Engine worked or not, the concept would generate future invention. Had it worked in his lifetime, if people were more open-minded, and the driving force of human progress motivated people more than cash, I believe we would have seen computers sooner in the early 1900's instead of the late 1900's. The 'I' Technology, or 'Epic' chips being researched today might already be yesterday's news to us by now. The 'difference' the 'Difference Engine' could have made on society, would be a 'difference' of 20-30 years of Computer Science evolution. (I thought a play on words would be a fun way to make my point here.)
    Personal Adendum:
    If I have learned anything it is this: I have developed a new appreciation for both math and computers. I always thought studies like math and physics were boring and no application in 'real life' or 'everyday' use. These views were ignorant. Math and Physics ARE used everyday, whether we are aware of it or not. Math and physics are studies to provide means of understanding the machanics of 'miracles'. An understanding of what otherwise could not be understood. By assigning a number, and testing equations, we discover the secrets of life itself. Math and physics aren't the cold inhuman subjects I thought in the past. They are very much human and in it's own way poetic. After the study I have just done, I am motivated now more than ever to pursue my interest in the further study of Computer Science. Where this study will branch out for me personaly is up to fate... or perhaps an eqation?...
    The question is, when will society allow 'differences' be made? Babbage's biggest enemy wasn't really the money, but the people behind it. Sceptism, and lack of vision. Pass or fail, we should let people try. Society cares about results "right now". Or "How much will that cost us." Some times errors needs to be made the first time 'round to go to the next phase. When it comes to this sort of situation, money is always the enemy. But our society itself would not have come to where it is today without co-operation, teamwork, and active interest in human progress. Or investment, for that matter.
    This country is currently in a recession (USA). But how much leeway do we give our society a chance to really educate themselves. How much motivation, and positive influence are we really giving to people? When someone does make a breakthrough like this man, Babbage, why not jump on board? Uncertainty is the answer. Fear of total loss. And that is a sign of lack of education of the masses. Principle theories are rejected due to societies lack of understanding of their potential. Stem cell research and it's ban is a prime example... This essay can turn into another essay but I'm going to end it here.

    I hope this essay was informative, educational, and motivational. Again I credit Doron Swade and his book, "The Diffence Engine" and suggest it as a great read for anybody interested in the first computer concept, and history of programming. There's alot of information that could not be crammed in this essay, and can certainly be used for quality research on all the work involved with Babbage's life and his calculation engines.


    Matthew T. Smith
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  3. #2  
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    Sorry, but Computer Science isn't the history of computing. It's about programming and study of algorithms. Better learn how to code. This will provide you an opportunity to work and earn money even without a university diploma.


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  4. #3 Basics 
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    I see your point. And of course you are right. I thought I'd start with the basics. I have an understanding of the concept of coding, but have yet to put into practice with a 'real' programming language editor. I'm definately an amatuer. I thought that maybe my 'fellow' geeks might appreciate a paper on some early computer history, or maybe someone that wants to learn coding as I do, would like to read some material for a place to start.
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  5. #4  
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    Nice essay.

    But it would have been easy for us to read if you have paragraphed it with more space between them.
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  6. #5  
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    Nice effort. Ignore BlasW's negative remarks. True, you need to be able to code and document that code, but an individual who can do that and knows something of the history of the field is going to be on the winning side more often.

    Here are two suggestions I think could help improve your work.

    First, don't make assumptions. You begin talking about Difference Engines without ever explaining what they are.

    Second, try to tighten up the writing - definitely space out the paragraphs and do use spell check (there are 79 typographical and spelling errors, including a persistent use of alot for a lot.) More importantly, cut down the number of words without losing any of the meaning.

    Here is an example from your first few paragraphs.

    Charles Babbage (1791-1871), was a nineteenth century mathematician, son of a banker, graduate of Cambridge, and the visionary who created the first mechanical computer.

    In the 1800's, complex arithmetic and mathematical calculations were made by people. Most people cannot perform perfect complex maths calculations in their heads, so tables were necessary: tables of logarithms, trigonometric functions, compound interest and the like. These aided the necessary tasks for everyday business, from sea-charting and astronomy, to the preparation of business ledgers.

    Many of these tables were prepared by teams of the recently jobless. (Intriguingly many were hairdressers who experienced a recession during the birth of the Industrial Revolution.) To improve the accuracy of these tables, two people would be assigned the same task. Afterwards, the two tables would be compared by a third party to see if they were correct.

    Babbage was employed in just such a role by the Astronomical Society , following graduation. One day, expressing his frustration to his friend John Herschel, he conceived of a device that could calculate such tables accurately. since he was well liked by those around him; he had many friends in "high-places"; fellow students held high positions in the Royal Society and government, he readily gained government support and received funds to create a "Difference Engine."


    That is about 2/3 the size of the original and, I think, reads more smoothly without any loss of significant information.

    A third thing to consider is accuracy. In even this short passage I was doubtful of of some fo the statements.
    a) Were the majority of human computers really out of work hairdressers? It seems unlikely.
    b) Cambridge University is most definitely not in London. It is, as the name suggests, in Cambridge.
    c) The proper name of the Astronomical Society is the Royal Astronomical Society.
    d) Several grammatical errors: who attended Cambridge, not that attentded Cambridge; They mostly were consisted of !!!
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  7. #6  
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    Ophiolite’s post encouraged me to read your entire OP, otherwise, as a rule, I don’t read posts that can’t fit on my screen (ie, over 500 words).

    As a quick aside, I agree that proper grammar and spelling makes an important impression that you’ll experience when you start writing résumés.

    Your reading and writing shows your excitement about computing and computer science, and don’t ever let family, friends, neighbors, roommates, teachers, bosses or coworkers convince you away from it. Your deep-rooted excitement gives you an edge over others who go into this field only because “everyone’s doing it” or because “there’s good money in it”. It will give you jobs, promotions and opportunities not given to them.

    Given what you wrote here, I would rather believe that Babbage lost funding for his work due to his lack of success much more than the unavailability of money.

    You might also enjoy comparing the collaboration of Babbage & Clement with that of Bell & Watson in their work towards the telephone. Bell knew speech production and propagation, Watson knew how to design and prototype inventions, and only together could they have invented the telephone.
    Grief is the price we pay for love. (CM Parkes) Our postillion has been struck by lightning. (Unknown) War is always the choice of the chosen who will not have to fight. (Bono) The years tell much what the days never knew. (RW Emerson) Reality is not always probable, or likely. (JL Borges)
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  8. #7 Thank you ^_^ 
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    I must admit, I posted hastily. This was actually my first draft. I was going to spell check and clean it up a bit, but I wanted to move on to the next assignment in my C++ book. I appologize about the double spaceing. I had the spacing in a word pad, and did a quick 'copy' 'paste' and it didn't xfer over with spacing.

    I appologize for this, and won't post again without carefully checking it. I appreciate all the feedback and will make any further posts with the corrections.

    In response as to how the machine worked. It's kinda hard to explain without a picture to get an idea but I'll do my best. This part is kinda hard to explain, as I have never actually seen the device, and just familiar with the concepts.

    I just googled an explanation that was better than the one I was going to post. It has a diagram of the engine and compares well with the material I read. For those interested in the concept of how the engine worked, click on this link:

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


    The most appealing form on the machine was the 'carry' function. when a weel would go past '9', and turn to '0'.

    Here is a google'd link of one of the pictures for the Diff engine. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fi...ne_drawing.gif

    Enjoy!

    Oh yeah, reguarding the Hairdressers (*snickers*)

    There was a recession in London during the cross over into the Industrial Revolution for Hairdressing. Society and their choice of hairstyles changed. (I'm assuming it was kinda like the style of the 60's xfering over into the 70's/80's) In any case, it was stated that people didn't want the hair styles of 'pre-industrialized' time. So hairdressers were laid off and had to find work.

    They went to school to learn basic math and got jobs to be 'human computers' so they could earn a living again. They only performed low level functions of caculating tables.

    There were 3 levels to my understanding. The third being the most diffiult, requireing a colleged mathmatician. The first level being basic arithmetic.

    I'm not saying they were 'ALL' laid off hairdressers, but indeed, that's where most of the workforce came from.
    I found the information amusing because I have a friend that's a hairdresser. So that bit of research caught my attention. (friend was a little stuck-up) lol
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  9. #8 'As a matter of fact' 
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    Another 'tidbit' of information I came across while studying the history of High Level Programming languages, the Department of Defense's ARPA (Advanced Research Programing Agency) funded, and played a big part in the developement of the first dial up Internet. At this time Unix was used (at a time when computers didn't use 'gui's or have the window's style display).

    Our governement was responsible for the seed of Wan and Lan dial up. Not suprising, but still kinda neat to know.
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  10. #9 Thank you 
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    Quote Originally Posted by vilyanurchandra
    Nice essay.

    But it would have been easy for us to read if you have paragraphed it with more space between them.
    Thank you =D.
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  11. #10  
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    shandaklann,
    you are probably aware that about thirty years ago a project was initiated to build Babbage's machine. \a working model can be seen at the Science Museum in London. I recommend seeing this if you are visiting London - for me it is the best exhibit in the museum - it's a beautiful piece.

    \seasons greetings
    Ophiolite
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  12. #11 Doron Swade 
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    Yes Doron Swade, Crick, and Holloway, recreated the project in 1991, the bicentenial anniversery of Babbage's death. I read about it in his book also, and really made me want to go to London to see it. Maybe when I get a degree and some money, I can go finally see it X_x.
    Matthew T. Smith
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