Mr. Babbage’s marvelous engine

In the US, where I just gave a lecture at a conference on Information Load and Overload, and of course I found the time to visit the wonderful Computer History Museum in Mountain View. This is always a delight, but this time they surpassed themselves: they demonstrated the newly built Difference Engine #2 in action!

Charles Babbage’s incredible but never-built 19th century calculating machine was first realized in the nineties by the Science Museum in London, and now Microsoft millionaire Nathan Myhrvold commissioned this second replica. This one is complete with the printing mechanism; you crank the handle at one end, sequential values of 7th order polynomial functions are computed by the whirring mechanism, and ready-to-use plaster casts for printing the numbers in table form come out the other end, complete with multi-column formatting. The dance of the mechanism is really a thing of beauty; a visit to the museum is very recommended.

I saw it, and I have the photo to prove it!

Nathan and the Babbage Difference Engine reconstruction

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