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History of Computer

History of Computer

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Published by Pam Rose Banal

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Published by: Pam Rose Banal on Jun 27, 2011
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06/29/2014

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An Illustrated History of ComputersPart 1
The first computers were people! That is, electronic computers (and the earlier mechanicalcomputers) were given this name because they performed the work that had previously beenassigned to people. "Computer" was originally a job title: it was used to describe those humanbeings (predominantly women) whose job it was to perform the repetitive calculations requiredto compute such things as navigational tables, tide charts, and planetary positions forastronomical almanacs. Imagine you had a job where hour after hour, day after day, you wereto do nothing but compute multiplications. Boredom would quickly set in, leading tocarelessness, leading to mistakes. And even on your best days you wouldn't be producinganswers very fast. Therefore, inventors have been searching for hundreds of years for a way tomechanize (that is, find a mechanism that can perform) this task.The
abacus
was an early aid for mathematical computations. Its only value is that it aids thememory of the human performing the calculation. A skilled abacus operator can work onaddition and subtraction problems at the speed of a person equipped with a hand calculator(multiplication and division are slower). The abacus is often wrongly attributed to China. In fact,the oldest surviving abacus was used in 300 B.C. by the Babylonians. The abacus is still in usetoday, principally in the far east. A modern abacus consists of rings that slide over rods, but theolder one pictured below dates from the time when pebbles were used for counting (the word"calculus" comes from the Latin word for pebble).
A very old abacus
 
A more modern abacus. Note how the abacus is really just a representation of the humanfingers: the 5 lower rings on each rod represent the 5 fingers and the 2 upper rings representthe 2 hands.In 1617 an eccentric (some say mad) Scotsman named John Napier invented
log
arithms
, whichare a technology that allows multiplication to be performed via addition. The magic ingredientis the logarithm of each operand, which was originally obtained from a printed table. ButNapier also invented an alternative to tables, where the logarithm values were carved on ivorysticks which are now called
Napier's B
on
es
.
 
 
An original set of Napier's Bones A more modern set of Napier's Bones
 
Napier's invention led directly to the
s
ide ru
e
, first built in England in 1632 and still in use inthe 1960's by the NASA engineers of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs which landedmen on the moon.
A slide rule
 
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) made drawings of gear-driven calculating machines butapparently never built any.The first gear-driven calculating machine to actually be built wasprobably the
ca
cu
ati 
ng
lo
ck 
, so named by its inventor, the German professor WilhelmSchickard in 1623. This device got little publicity because Schickard died soon afterward in thebubonic plague.
S
chickard's Calculating Clock 
In 1642 Blaise Pascal, at age 19, invented the
 Pascaline
as an aid for his father who was a taxcollector. Pascal built 50 of this gear-driven one-function calculator (it could only add) butcouldn't sell many because of their exorbitant cost and because they really weren't that accurate
 
(at that time it was not possible to fabricate gears with the required precision). Up until the present age when car dashboards went digital, the odometer portion of a car's speedometer usedthe very same mechanism as the Pascaline to increment the next wheel after each full revolutionof the prior wheel. Pascal was a child prodigy. At the age of 12, he was discovered doing hisversion of Euclid's thirty-second proposition on the kitchen floor. Pascal went on to invent probability theory, the hydraulic press, and the syringe. Shown below is an 8 digit version of thePascaline, and two views of a 6 digit version:
P
ascal's
P
ascaline A 6 digit model for those who couldn't afford the 8digit modelA
P
ascaline opened up so you can observe the gears andcylinders which rotated to display the numerical result 
Electromechanical to Computer InterfaceThere often exists many old style electromechanical devices in theresearch laboratory. This includes devices consisting of relays, motors,solenoids, transformers, vacuum tubes and switches. Often thesedevices are not well isolated from the AC power source and theyalways generate a lot of electrical noise. These devices can be standalone but are most often attached to standard rack mounted systems.Computer control is the most powerful technique for research today.But computer systems are inheriently low voltage and are very suspectable to electrical noise. Thusputting electromechanical devices under computer control can be particularly challenging.I build devices that interface the noisy electromechanical environment to modern computer systems.Sometimes rack mounted and other times stand alone my interfaces isolate the sensitive world of computer processing from the noisy world of relays, solenoids and switches. I also create modernelectronic replacements for electromechanical devices. These replacements are inherintly less noisy,lower power and directly interface to the computer.

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