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Mr. Babbage's Analytical Engine
October 19, 2010 3:26 PM   Subscribe

A project to build Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. John Graham (blog) has setup a pledge to build a working version of the Analytical Engine, successor to the Difference Engine(Prev) it was to be a real steam powered programmable computer.
posted by Long Way To Go (27 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
it would also be fantastic to use it to execute the code written especially for it by famous Victorian mathematician Ada Lovelace, who worked with Babbage on the Engine. Her code is intended to calculate the Bernoulli sequence of numbers, which she worked on until 1843, and is the first computer program.
And I thought my builds were slow!
posted by heathkit at 3:39 PM on October 19, 2010


Can it run minecraft?
posted by empath at 3:50 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Gah, we're a day late for Babbage day!
posted by Artw at 3:53 PM on October 19, 2010


According to the British television programme QI, someone's already made one out of Meccano. Series 4, episode 7 showed some footage of the thing, over which Stephen Fry said: "And there is a Meccano difference engine at work. It really does work, and it can do trigonometric functions, logarithms . . . and the point about it is it's programmable."

You can find the episode's full transcript here. For all I know, there may be a clip on YouTube too.
posted by Paul Slade at 3:58 PM on October 19, 2010


Hello Old, Old World
posted by rosswald at 4:03 PM on October 19, 2010


Paul Slade: That's the Difference Engine, a much weaker and not programmable system. Two modern, real Difference Engines already exist. The Analytical Engine is much more capable.
posted by chairface at 4:12 PM on October 19, 2010


Paul Slade - but that would be the Difference Engine, wouldn't it? This is the Analytical Engine, which is far more complicated.
posted by starvingartist at 4:12 PM on October 19, 2010


starvingartist: "Paul Slade - but that would be the Difference Engine, wouldn't it? This is the Analytical Engine, which is far more complicated"

Further, the project aims to recreate the Analytical Engine with period-appropriate materials. Babbage didn't have Meccano.

Or did he?
posted by Gin and Comics at 4:28 PM on October 19, 2010


Good day to you, World.
posted by run"monty at 4:51 PM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Prepare for the steampunk era!!

Imagine what TRON would be like if computers were steam-powered?
posted by abirdandaman at 5:29 PM on October 19, 2010


Imagine what TRON would be like if computers were steam-powered?

I could totally go for a steam-powered version of Space Paranoids.
posted by ...possums at 6:55 PM on October 19, 2010


I tried compiling a program once on an analytical engine. It threw an error, then gave me a 'blue sprocket of death,' so I started up a game of Medal of Honor : Crimea.
posted by crunchland at 7:02 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Babbage was a fine fellow, but Ada Lovelace was cooler. She proves that, when the hardware people finally get here with our machines, we programmers have already been writing programs for them before we even had a way to run them – and she shows that women were actually there first, too.
posted by koeselitz at 7:25 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I saw the Difference Engine that's on display in Mountain View, CA this weekend (#2, I guess). Supposedly, the Science Museum in London is willing to sell you one if you have three or four million lying around. That's the cost after they've done all the legwork in creating the modern plans, finding suppliers, and most importantly developing the expertise to actually build one of these things. I can't imagine how much building an Analytical Machine from scratch would cost, but I'm pretty sure $500,000 won't come close to cutting it.
posted by dd42 at 7:39 PM on October 19, 2010


and she shows that women were actually there first, too.

And then when we actually did build computers, women still dominated programming in the beginning. See Making Programming Masculine.
posted by Jpfed at 7:40 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


i wanted to name my daughter "ada" in honor of lady ada lovelace. but i didn't, cos my last name is "pai." (true story)
posted by jcruelty at 7:50 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


They should run Minecraft on it then build one IN Minecraft. What I'm saying is that it's Minecraft and analytical engines all the way down.
posted by brundlefly at 8:35 PM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Chairface said: "Paul Slade: That's the Difference Engine, a much weaker and not programmable system. Two modern, real Difference Engines already exist. The Analytical Engine is much more capable."

My mistake. Apologies.
posted by Paul Slade at 12:30 AM on October 20, 2010


Can it run minecraft?

Unlikely, but ironically you could probably build it in Minecraft.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:19 AM on October 20, 2010


Sir, here we measure our gear-train in miles
posted by Leon at 6:28 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


dd42: “I can't imagine how much building an Analytical Machine from scratch would cost, but I'm pretty sure $500,000 won't come close to cutting it.”

Oh, come on. What is it made of, diamonds? Expertise isn't a precious mineral. I'll bet a really, really dedicated hobbyist could make it for cheap – they'd just have to put in a lot of man-hours. Is it really that the raw materials are so absolutely expensive? Because you can say that expertise about Babbage's difference engine is worth millions of dollars, but frankly I don't see Babbage specialists out there scoring CEO-sized bonuses or anything like that. Sure, they're worth more than CEOs, but doesn't the museum ask for that price because it's code for "yeah, not bloody likely, unless you're going to pretty much buy the whole damned department for a few months"?
posted by koeselitz at 7:21 AM on October 20, 2010


Oh, come on. What is it made of, diamonds? Expertise isn't a precious mineral. I'll bet a really, really dedicated hobbyist could make it for cheap

Indeed. The biggest costs are all the custom gearing and the labor required to put it together. But a modern CNC mill can produce the gears easily enough, and I imagine Mr. Graham won't be paying himself a massive salary.
posted by jedicus at 7:28 AM on October 20, 2010


I can't believe I'm the only one here who has either already seen or knows how to search for it.
posted by DU at 7:50 AM on October 20, 2010


As for the cost, I imagine it is going to take a LOT of brainpower to make this work. The build of the Difference Engine required some re-engineering as some parts were backwards, ill-specified, etc. The Analytical Engine was even more bluesky than the DE so I bet many things will have to figured out.
posted by DU at 7:53 AM on October 20, 2010


If you're really interested in Babbage's story, there's a great book about it: The difference engine : Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer.
posted by General Tonic at 8:28 AM on October 20, 2010


I'm an early signer of that pledge. I'd be surprised if the money we raise covers building it, but it's all worth it even if we just get a useable design. This is core history here.
posted by mdoar at 8:34 AM on October 20, 2010


This. Is. So. Cool.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:52 PM on October 20, 2010


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