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Author Topic:   And now for something completely different
EngrBohn
Highlie

Posts: 687
From: United States
Registered: Jul 2000

posted March 12, 2002 15:58     Click Here to See the Profile for EngrBohn   Click Here to Email EngrBohn     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From another thread...

- macadddikt18 -
We need a good debate or something like that.

- ZorroTheFox -
I never knew what to say, now I can at least think of something even if it isn't the best thing ever said. The only problem with debates is some people tend to take things way too seriously.

Alright. Let's see if we can have a non-serious debate. Primus Mandatum: No personal attacks.

(scratches his head) Let's see here...

Resolved, if Charles Babbage had succeeded in building the Analytical Engine, we would not today have computers small enough for personal use.

Okay... who wants to take the affirmative, and who wants to take the negative?

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cb
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Max Heck
Geek-in-Training

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posted March 12, 2002 17:28     Click Here to See the Profile for Max Heck   Click Here to Email Max Heck     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Actually, that was sorta-kinda treated in William Gibson & Bruce Sterling's "The Difference Engine."

Me, I think that the garden variety Singer Sewing Machine is the pinnacle of victorian-era engineering...

Max.

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Max Heck
Geek-in-Training

Posts: 35
From:
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posted March 12, 2002 17:35     Click Here to See the Profile for Max Heck   Click Here to Email Max Heck     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
More on topic, I'll take the "con" side of the argument.

To wit: There came a time in the evolution of tech where electricity became the "sexy" technology. It was invoked for everything from research to patent medicines. It was in some ways inevitable that the idea of electricity and information would sooner or later collide. (telegraph, telephone)

Never underestimate the power of sexy tech.

A more interesting question would involve the divergence between analog and digital computing. I'm too tired to frame a good question at the moment, but I'm sure you'll think of something.

Max.

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Bregalad
Super Geek

Posts: 203
From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Registered: Jan 2002

posted March 12, 2002 21:30     Click Here to See the Profile for Bregalad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I contend that any mechanical "thinking" machine would have simply accelerated the development and adoption of technology. Somebody at IBM was quoted in the early computing days saying that there was a potential market for computers of about a half dozen. Had analytical machines been around the previous century, such notions would have come and gone and people would be hard at work trying to make smaller and better machines. People would have thought about switching electricity a long time before it really happened.

Think about the problems that could have been solved decades sooner. If society had accepted calculating machines in the 19th century all of science would have benefited and many discoveries would have been made sooner. Unfortunately that leads to ideas like atomic bombs being used during WWI, but radioactivity might have been one of those sciences that was ignored in favor of electric circuits.

I think I'll hit Submit before I babble any more.

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EngrBohn
Highlie

Posts: 687
From: United States
Registered: Jul 2000

posted March 13, 2002 04:48     Click Here to See the Profile for EngrBohn   Click Here to Email EngrBohn     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hmm. Haven't read "The Difference Engine", so I don't know if my thoughts repeated theirs, but it was along the lines of...

If a working general-purpose programmable digital computer based on steam valves were available, would that have accelerated or slowed-down the development of a general-purpose programmable digital computer based on electron valves (aka vacuum tubes). In turn, how would *that* have affected the adoption of solid-state electronics in computers? Or, would PCs today (if they existed) be built using gas valves, only perhaps with a lower-pressure, inert gas?

Related question. Most of the fundamentals of computational theory came about before general-purpose computers were developed. What would have been the impact of having a working general-purpose computer available *before* Turing, Church, and company said "hmm..."?

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cb
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Tau Zero
BlabberMouth, the Next Generation.

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posted March 13, 2002 08:05     Click Here to See the Profile for Tau Zero     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think we would have such computers, and may have had them sooner.

A steam-powered programmable calculating engine would have established the technology of automated computing in a very big way, and jump-started the art and science of programming nearly a century earlier.  The historical record of computing shows that technology is no barrier; electromechanical computers were used first, but were supplanted by fully-electronic computers such as Eniac within a couple of decades of the advent of the electron valve (vacuum tube).  Neither did it take long for transistors to kick tubes out of the top slot; they were just about as fast, much smaller, consumed much less power and were far more reliable.  Once the transistor was invented the demise of vacuum-tube computers was almost inevitable, and ditto the integrated circuit to discrete devices.

I think that a Difference Engine would have been a short-lived precursor to electromechanical computers.  Electromagnets and the dynamos required to drive them were out of the lab and becoming industrial at the time, so the progress of computing from brass gears to clunking relays (and racks and racks of ladder logic) would probably have followed quickly.  Further progress would have had to await the discovery of the thermionic effect and the subsequent invention of the triode, so there may have been a hiatus there.  On the other hand, computer science would be several decades ahead of where it is now, particularly the science of error detection and correction.  (Who's going to rely on a result from a machine that might have a moth stuck between a pair of contacts, and not indicate the malfunction?)

Radioactivity was a serendipitous discovery, so I doubt that nuclear weapons would have come along any sooner.

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rednecklinux
Neat Newbie

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From: the darkside of the south
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posted March 13, 2002 09:27     Click Here to See the Profile for rednecklinux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have to agree with the posters saying that it would have accelerated the computer revolution. The advent of electricity would have been too big to ignore. The science of programming may have gotten a jump start but I submit that we still would have pcs today. We as a society might be more computer literate than we are now but as the book "The Difference Engine" pointed out, they still would have done the same things as today only sooner. Interesting debate but very hard to argue either way due to the vast differences between today and victorian england. As for the idea that analog computers would be more pervelent, I think that as soon as electricity became available, binary would still be the best way to go.

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quantumfluff
Highlie

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From: the ether
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posted March 13, 2002 10:14     Click Here to See the Profile for quantumfluff   Click Here to Email quantumfluff     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm squarely in the camp that thinks it would have accelerated the development of newer computing technologies. What I find more interesting is what might have happened to world history if Babbage had succeeded and the British government grabbed the technology for military advantage. Would Britain have had such a great technological advantage that they could have extended their empire even further and longer. Would they be the world's superpower today?

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macadddikt18
SuperBlabberMouth!

Posts: 1150
From: In a world beyond your understanding
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posted March 13, 2002 10:22     Click Here to See the Profile for macadddikt18   Click Here to Email macadddikt18     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think i will take the clueless side. What on earth is the Analytical Engine? how does it effect the size of a computer. Not knowing those two things. I would have to say that invented or not, by that guy, it would have come along sooner or later. it is like a coin tossed in the air. It my land on heads every single time but sooner or later it has to land on tails. I think computers will always get smaller, in the is evolution of technology.
Nayt

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EngrBohn
Highlie

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posted March 13, 2002 10:54     Click Here to See the Profile for EngrBohn   Click Here to Email EngrBohn     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Nayt,
In the 19th century, Charles Babbage tried to build a general-purpose computer (only he called in an Analytical Engine), using steam relays to build the logic gates. Ada Byron (Lady Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron) was the first to realize that you could do more than just program the beast, but that you could write subroutines for it. She actually wrote a few programs for it, but since it was never finished, the programs never ran. All this before there was even a theory of computing.

So the question I'd asked was whether having a steam-driven computer would've affected the timeline of computer evolution such that PCs are delayed by at least 30 years.

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cb
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omega996
Newbie

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From: brea, ca
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posted March 13, 2002 11:22     Click Here to See the Profile for omega996   Click Here to Email omega996     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Difference Engine - one of my favorite gibson works! that book dealt with more than just the difference engine. it seems to me that, in the aforementioned book, the early arrival of the industrial revolution and a shift from monarchy and the titled bloodlines to meritocracy made babbage's analytical and difference engines workable.
it's hard to say what effect a computing device introduced so early would be, without a technological infrastructure to further its continued development. would the adoption of the computer (analog and steam-driven, in this case) increase the rate at which technology advanced? i think so. i further opine that advances in microminiaturization would take precedence over research into electrical-powered devices. this was in the 1830s-1840s, after all. electricity was a curiosity then, with little practical application (not until like 1870 was work being done on uses for it.

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Zwilnik
Alpha Geek

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posted March 13, 2002 12:13     Click Here to See the Profile for Zwilnik     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I also read the Difference Engine. It's probably the only Gibson novel that I can stand, and even then I think it's not brilliant (it's good though, well worth borrowing from the library to read).

That being said, if the Analytical Engine had worked *and* been marketed properly (a university in the UK recently built a working Analytical Engine + Printer from Babbage's original designs, using modern advances in mechanics) modern semi-conductor based computers would have come about, possibly even in about the same time frame, but we'd quite likely have had advances in mechanical engineering too.
If Babbage had been a bit more clever on the business side, he'd have partnered with a specialist watchmaker to create and design the mechanics, rather than using the local mechanical engineering firms the machine might have had more chance of working originally.
As people would have thought about making the computers smaller (there's always *someone* thinking in the opposite direction), the need to use electronics to miniturise the computer would have come about anyway. Any delays in starting on electronic computer design would be offset by the knowledge of computing gained by the mechanical computers.

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Tau Zero
BlabberMouth, the Next Generation.

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posted March 13, 2002 13:14     Click Here to See the Profile for Tau Zero     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Zwilnik:
That being said, if the Analytical Engine had worked ....
If Babbage had been a bit more clever on the business side, he'd have partnered with a specialist watchmaker to create and design the mechanics, rather than using the local mechanical engineering firms the machine might have had more chance of working originally.

It was my impression that it would have worked, he just never got the money to complete the prototype.

Here's a BBC article on the Babbage printer.  I cannot find anything on the technology actually used to construct the replica; it was my impression that it was not modern, but was intended to replicate the materials and tolerances available to Babbage to test the actual feasibility of building the device in his time.

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Zwilnik
Alpha Geek

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posted March 13, 2002 15:44     Click Here to See the Profile for Zwilnik     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We were taught (in the history part of our computer studies 'O' levels) that Babbage wasn't able to get the analytical engine working because the engineering at the time wasn't up to it. i.e gears and such couldn't be machined accurately enough to reduce the friction to a level where it would actually turn.
Then again, we were also taught (in the same CS lessons), that programmers would be incredibly popular, rich and famous and women would flock round them as if they were pop stars.

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ZorroTheFox
SuperBlabberMouth!

Posts: 1133
From: Milton, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2001

posted March 13, 2002 18:01     Click Here to See the Profile for ZorroTheFox   Click Here to Email ZorroTheFox     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What if he had put more time into inventing his line of Babbage patch kids >;o) .....Z

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Bregalad
Super Geek

Posts: 203
From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
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posted March 13, 2002 19:02     Click Here to See the Profile for Bregalad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by ZorroTheFox:
What if he had put more time into inventing his line of Babbage patch kids >;o) .....Z

I think half the fun of reading the forums is looking for the thread with the good one liner from Zorro or SwissMercenary

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Swiss Mercenary
BlabberMouth, the Next Generation.

Posts: 1466
From: All the way from the land of Chocolate, Cheese and Cuckoo Clocks.
Registered: Feb 2000

posted March 14, 2002 09:15     Click Here to See the Profile for Swiss Mercenary   Click Here to Email Swiss Mercenary     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Bregalad:
I think half the fun of reading the forums is looking for the thread with the good one liner from Zorro or SwissMercenary

Boy then you are going to have to really read a lot of posts before finding a good one liner from either of us.

On the other hand bad one liners we can provide.

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ZorroTheFox
SuperBlabberMouth!

Posts: 1133
From: Milton, WA, USA
Registered: Oct 2001

posted March 14, 2002 14:22     Click Here to See the Profile for ZorroTheFox   Click Here to Email ZorroTheFox     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Swiss Mercenary:
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Bregalad:
[b] I think half the fun of reading the forums is looking for the thread with the good one liner from Zorro or SwissMercenary

Boy then you are going to have to really read a lot of posts before finding a good one liner from either of us.

On the other hand bad one liners we can provide.[/B][/QUOTE]

It feels so good to be bad, even if it is for only one line.........Z

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Bregalad
Super Geek

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From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
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posted March 14, 2002 18:24     Click Here to See the Profile for Bregalad     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I suppose this could go into the confession area...

There aren't many threads here that I haven't read. I'm not a SuperFan or an Anime fan so I don't read those areas. Other than that, however, I try to have a quick look at everything.

As for the definition of a good one liner, bad puns are sometimes exactly what I need at the end of the day.

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TheAnnoyedCockroach
Super Geek

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From:
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posted March 15, 2002 20:23     Click Here to See the Profile for TheAnnoyedCockroach   Click Here to Email TheAnnoyedCockroach     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I humbly submit my one liner.

______

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GameMaster
Geek

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From: State of insanity
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posted March 16, 2002 01:14     Click Here to See the Profile for GameMaster   Click Here to Email GameMaster     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think that the "steam computer" would have delayed the onset of the PC, because the focus would have become trying to make steam technoloy smaller and NOT creating a new computer base. Taking this idea out, what technologies are we missing out on because we are in this digitally inclined? Would a Trinary system perhaps cause real AI and/or fuzzy logic to become more attainable?

(sorry for any spelling errrrrors, I didn't want to lose the thought.)

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Super Flippy
Geek

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From: South Carolina
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posted March 16, 2002 09:01     Click Here to See the Profile for Super Flippy     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by GameMaster:
Taking this idea out, what technologies are we missing out on because we are in this digitally inclined?

I remember the hoopla surrounding biological computers about 8 or 9 years ago. Pundits tossed around the idea that big computers like crays would be replaced by racks of test tubes after some scientists succesfully proved that amino acid solutions could be used successfully for computing.

But since then, silicon computers have improved significantly, and I haven't heard a thing about this test tube computer that was supposedly more powerful and faster than any chip could be.

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+Andrew
Super Geek

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From: Boston, MA, USA
Registered: Aug 2001

posted March 16, 2002 19:18     Click Here to See the Profile for +Andrew   Click Here to Email +Andrew     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Super Flippy:
I remember the hoopla surrounding biological computers about 8 or 9 years ago. Pundits tossed around the idea that big computers like crays would be replaced by racks of test tubes after some scientists succesfully proved that amino acid solutions could be used successfully for computing.

But since then, silicon computers have improved significantly, and I haven't heard a thing about this test tube computer that was supposedly more powerful and faster than any chip could be.


The scientists haven't been idle. Read on.

-Andrew

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macadddikt18
SuperBlabberMouth!

Posts: 1150
From: In a world beyond your understanding
Registered: Jan 2002

posted March 16, 2002 20:19     Click Here to See the Profile for macadddikt18   Click Here to Email macadddikt18     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
I humbly submit my one liner.

______


WOW, now that was funnier than zorro for once.
Nayt

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c:/dos
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ASM65816
Geek

Posts: 85
From:
Registered: Mar 2001

posted March 22, 2002 14:00     Click Here to See the Profile for ASM65816   Click Here to Email ASM65816     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Monkey Wrench!

If the US Patent Office and the (filthy hordes of) Lawyers dealing in Patent Law had existed in Babbage's time.....

Would America possess computing technology any more advanced than an abacus ?

Would the use of fingers and toes for mathematical operations be an infringement of some patent ? And what would be done with illegally used fingers and toes ?

Technology builds on technology. Forbid the use a technology in conjunction with any other technology and invention will cease. (Personal opinion.)

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Once a proud programmer of Apple II's, he now spends his days and nights in cheap dives fraternizing with exotic dancers....

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Erbo
Super Geek

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posted March 22, 2002 22:58     Click Here to See the Profile for Erbo   Click Here to Email Erbo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Here's a link to the replica of Babbage's Difference Engine #2 that the London Science Museum constructed in 1995. They restricted themselves to manufacturing tolerances available in Victorian times, but redrew and expanded on Babbage's original plans to make the parts manufacturable. The machine actually works. I recall reading an article in Scientific American about its construction.

As for the Gibson/Sterling novel...I have a signed hardback copy. The best description I have for it is "Victorian cyberpunk." It's good.

If Babbage had managed to get the Analytical Engine up and running, I think we would probably have more powerful computers today than we do. Hopefully, it could have been combined with the telegraph as well. (There's a good book on the history of the telegraph, called The Victorian Internet. Imagine if it had been used to link up Analytical Engines!)

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aloysius
Newbie Larva

Posts: 4
From:
Registered: Mar 2002

posted March 28, 2002 01:59     Click Here to See the Profile for aloysius     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Consider the analogy of television. At first television was based on mechanical designs using components like the Nipkow disk for scanning and selenium photocells for crude light detection. Mechanical systems like this were pioneered by many in the late 19th century, well before Logie-Baird got his hands on other peoples work. (One pioneer that stands out is the Australian Henry Sutton, who sent moving images from one room in his house to a receiver in another room via wires. This happened in the 1870s!)
When electronics became sophisticated enough to provide a superior product, naturally it took over from the crude mechanical systems.

In the same way, electronics would have naturally taken over from the analytical engine in its original mechanical form.

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