Analog Fire Control
May 19, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

u.s navy vintage fire control computers : An intriguing look at the mechanical workings of the computers of World War 2.
posted by mikepaco (24 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Target sited
posted by DU at 5:00 PM on May 19, 2010

Whoa, wait. There's a lot more here, I think. Awesome!
posted by DU at 5:04 PM on May 19, 2010

My bad about the repost and the wrong time period >.<.
posted by mikepaco at 5:07 PM on May 19, 2010

The cam's motion signals the mod.
posted by Smart Dalek at 5:10 PM on May 19, 2010

I guess there's no point in being a follower of this thread.

(Even though it was neat stuff.)
posted by Skygazer at 5:35 PM on May 19, 2010

My dad was a fire controller on a heavy cruiser in the war. I'll have to ask him to look at the article.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:53 PM on May 19, 2010

Reminds me of the time I toured an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. The most sophisticated computer on board the boat was the PC that handled little admin tasks like payroll. As the sailor running the missile room said, it doesn't have to be very smart to go BOOM.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:13 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, it doesn't have to be electronic to be pretty smart. Trigonometry and metal shop, united to rule the waves!
posted by Zonker at 6:37 PM on May 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Putting the machine in the computer.
posted by freesilver at 6:52 PM on May 19, 2010

I just annoyed the misses with a great output of "ah, of course," utterances.
posted by Hoenikker at 7:10 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

So now we know what that antikythera mechanism was all about.
posted by Iron Rat at 9:31 PM on May 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

This is so cool.
posted by carping demon at 10:11 PM on May 19, 2010

Here's what my dad had to say:

Talk about being carried back in time!
I went into the navy as a radar technician (Seaman RT), starting to train to run the system of fire control --with radar -- to replace ship by ship, the classic systems shown in those teaching clips you sent. As a fire controlman striker, we were still being taught to use those gear-cam fire control "computers".
Newer ships coming into service were coming in with radar connected range-finding equipment which totally outmoded the Navy-wide cam and gear systems.
The thing is that as fast as they were ready to replace the old system, the newer radar ones would be improved and demanding upgrades in many cases or settling for the older stuff in others. My early Navy time was in Chicago at Navy radar tech school. We were being readied to go out and work on replacing the old stuff with the new as opportunity presented itself.
That's where our groups connection with the USS Pittsburgh came in. She was in Bremerton undergoing major damage repairs and an obvious situation to upgrade the already dated radar system. Some of the guys I was with had worked earlier with gear and cam and had to be reschooled for radar.
In short, that was about it. Along about there came Hiroshima and the end of upgrading. For me it led to sitting waiting for discharge along with many others who were there as the guys who had been in since the earliest days came flooding though on their way home.
But the sight of those cam-gear basics was sure a breeder of memories because I'd seen those things a lot. As a fire control striker most of the training involved multiple hands cranking multiple gear wheels.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:01 AM on May 20, 2010 [5 favorites]

Immediate reactions:

I'd swear know that voice from one or more voice-overs in old Tex Avery cartoons.

One of my assertions, especially with members of previous generations, is all the hand-wringing over people getting dumber because of computers is misplaced. Why not off-load your memory on Google or Wikipedia or whatever and worry about applied knowledge? While one interpretation of watching the first film dovetails with my assertion, it makes me question myself: though the computer was doing the math for you, it still required someone with a passing familiarity with bearings, angles, velocity, etc. I don't know that the end result of off-loading as much as we can onto computers must necessarily be Idiocracy, but I also wonder if it won't take the satisfaction out of life. Don't tell the 15 year-old me this, but, like that old naval hero Jack Aubrey before me, I've found a satisfaction in solving math problems now that I'm old.

Then again, progress has its benefits. I bet nowadays the computer could also rely on women in an absolute pinch.
posted by yerfatma at 5:58 AM on May 20, 2010

I'd swear know that voice from one or more voice-overs in old Tex Avery cartoons.

It's entirely possible. Apart from guys like Mel Blanc, voice-over work in Hollywood (if that's where this was made) used to be dominated by a *tiny* group of actors. Try watching cartoons from the 60s and 70s. Danny Dark, Olan Soule, Casey Kasem ... these guys did thousands and thousands of projects.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:08 AM on May 20, 2010

I was mesmerized by the film and the voice-over, which made me think I could actually follow and understand the computer mechanisms involved. And I couldn't help associating terms like "rack and pinion", "cam", and "differential" with the parts of a car. I haven't a clue what these devices do in the car, yet somehow manage to grasp how they helped the firing of big guns on a WWII warship. Of which my car has none, but sometimes I wish it did.
posted by drogien at 6:21 AM on May 20, 2010

They do in a car the same thing they did in that computer. We just don't interpret the output as a calculation in a car.
posted by DU at 6:56 AM on May 20, 2010

One of my coworkers at a previous job liked collecting stuff like this. He actually had a similar fire control computer from the 40s, a Marchant (hand-cranked mechanical calculator), and some similar-vintage artillery computers.
posted by kaszeta at 7:13 AM on May 20, 2010

Oh yeah! This makes the retrocomputing guys of the late 60s and early 70s like me look like noobs.

I don't know if this is covered in the films (just starting to load them now) but I will point to the recently restored Torpedo Data Computer aboard the USS Pampanito. The submarine is moored in San Francisco and you can tour it, although you can't get up into the conning tower where the TDC is located (darn it). I toured the boat several times (before its restoration, darn it).
I read about the restoration, the TDC is now in fully operating condition. Ironically, the analog mechanical components were easy to restore, compared to the radar systems which required hunting for replacement vacuum tubes that haven't been manufactured for many years and are extremely rare. Fortunately the USS Pampanito is the pet project of some Silicon Valley geeks, and hooray for them.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:05 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

P.S. just stumbled across this..

RTFM: manuals for naval gunnery fire control systems, courtesy of the Historic Naval Ships Association. Also manuals for the TDC I just posted above this.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:10 AM on May 20, 2010

Analog computers astonish me. But they can't show funny cat videos. Damn electronics revolution! We could have had analog cat videos by now.
posted by Xoebe at 12:47 PM on May 20, 2010

I haven't a clue what these devices do in the car, yet somehow manage to grasp how they helped the firing of big guns on a WWII warship.

Again, 1953 - not WWII. Hell, only half Korea.

WWII had other computers.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:40 PM on May 20, 2010

Again, 1953 - not WWII. Hell, only half Korea.

Were there really any salient differences between analog fire control computers in use in WW2 and those in use in 1953?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:08 PM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not much at all, it turns out. Further search turns up this and this, which seem at odds with what I had earlier noted.

(The Search for knowledge- it never stops!)
posted by IndigoJones at 2:07 PM on May 22, 2010

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