Most of us have a love/hate relationship with computers. If you
have one the learning curve seems endless: as the computer experts
tend to say 'if your system works well, then it's obsolete'. We
hang on the telephone interminably while a computer-generated voice
fails to itemize the option we want, we watch our screens darken as
something crashes and precious information is consigned to
oblivion, and we wait, and wait, for the paperless office forecast
so long ago to arrive. On the other hand, the computer brings great
advantages. It is now ubiquitous and many people take it for
granted. How did this computer age come about? This fascinating
book takes us back to the beginning. Going back to 1821, it sets
out the quest of the mathematician Charles Babbage to create an
infallible 'calculating engine'. His approach was pragmatic. The
world around him - from ships navigating by the stars to financiers
in the City - suffered from the laborious process of calculating
using voluminous tables. He aimed to make all this easier. Perhaps
Dava Sobel's wonderful Longitude started a trend, but it also
exposed an appetite for scientific history. This book weaves a
spellbinding tale: of Babbage's life, of his work and of the times
in which he lived. It will appeal to both those interested in
history and those interested in science. The author, Assistant
Director and Head of Collections at London's Science Museum, ends
the book by linking to a modern tale. He describes the museum's
project to create a full-sized Babbage Engine to coincide with the
200th anniversary of his birth. This completes a compelling, and
well-told story and links back to the present day. And how would
reviews like this have been produced if Babbage had not existed?
In 1821, 30-year-old inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage was
poring over a set of printed mathematical tables with his friend,
the astronomer John Herschel. Finding error after error in the
manually evaluated results, Babbage made an exclamation, the
consequences of which would not only dominate the remaining 50
years of his life, but also lay the foundations for the modern
computer industry: "I wish to God these calculations had been
executed by steam!" A few days later, he set down a plan to build a
machine that would carry out complex mathematical calculations
without human intervention and, at least in theory, without human
errors. The only technology to which he had access for solving the
problem was the cogwheel escapement found inside clocks. Babbage
saw that a machine constructed out of hundreds of escapements,
cunningly and precisely linked, might be able to handle
calculations mechanically. The story of his lifelong bid to
construct such a machine is a triumph of human ingenuity, will and
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