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An Illustrated History of Computers

An Illustrated History of Computers

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Published by: Majeir Joy Abundabar Asis on Jun 17, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/30/2014

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An Illustrated History of ComputersPart 1 ___________________________________John Kopplin © 2002
The first computers were people! That is, electronic computers (and the earlier mechanical computers) were given this name because they performed the work thathad previously been assigned to people. "Computer" was originally a job title: it wasused to describe those human beings (predominantly women) whose job it was toperform the repetitive calculations required to compute such things as navigationaltables, tide charts, and planetary positions for astronomical almanacs. Imagine you hada job where hour after hour, day after day, you were to do nothing but computemultiplications. Boredom would quickly set in, leading to carelessness, leading tomistakes. And even on your best days you wouldn't be producing answers very fast.Therefore, inventors have been searching for hundreds of years for a way to mechanize(that is, find a mechanism that can perform) this task.
This picture shows what were known as "counting tables" [photo courtesy IBM]
 
 
A typical computer operation back when computers were people.
The
abacus
was an early aid for mathematical computations. Its only value is that itaids the memory of the human performing the calculation. A skilled abacus operator canwork on addition and subtraction problems at the speed of a person equipped with ahand calculator (multiplication and division are slower). The abacus is often wronglyattributed to China. In fact, the oldest surviving abacus was used in 300 B.C. by theBabylonians. The abacus is still in use today, principally in the far east. A modernabacus consists of rings that slide over rods, but the older one pictured below datesfrom the time when pebbles were used for counting (the word "calculus" comes from theLatin word for pebble).
 
 
A very old abacusA more modern abacus. Note how the abacus is really just a representation of thehuman fingers: the 5 lower rings on each rod represent the 5 fingers and the 2upper rings represent the 2 hands.
In 1617 an eccentric (some say mad) Scotsman named John Napier invented
log 
arithms
, which are a technology that allows multiplication to be performedvia addition. The magic ingredient is the logarithm of each operand, which was originally

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