:The birth of computers - life Jim but not as we know it!

: Abacus : Egyptians and Romans : 1st Century BC : 2nd Century : Leonardo da Vinci : Logarithms : First Calculator : Pascaline : Liebnitz : Punch Cards : Difference Engine : Anylitical Engine : First Programmer :The Telegraph : Morse : Boolean : George Schuetz : Under-sea Cables : Qwerty Keyboards : Jeavon's logic piano : Electric Motors  : Typewriters : Bell : Marquand  : EdisonLCD : Burrough : Marconi :

500BC Abacus

 An Abacus is a simple device for performing arithmetic calculations and therefore is the ancestor of the modern calculating machine and computer. It is basically a calculating device, probably of Babylonian origin, sometime between 1,000 BC and 500 BC, (although some pundits are of the opinion that it was actually invented by the Chinese) that was long important in commerce.

The word abacus comes to us by way of Latin as a mutation of the Greek word abax. In turn, the Greeks may have adopted the Phoenician word abak, meaning "sand", although some authorities lean toward the Hebrew word abhaq, meaning "dust."

Irrespective of the source, the original concept referred to a flat stone covered with sand (or dust) into which numeric symbols were drawn. The first abacus was almost certainly based on such a stone, with pebbles being placed on lines drawn in the sand. Over time the stone was replaced by a wooden frame supporting thin sticks, braided hair, or leather thongs, onto which clay beads or pebbles with holes were threaded.

A variety of different types of abacus were developed, but the most popular became those based on the bi-quinary system, which utilizes a combination of two bases (base-2 and base-5) to represent decimal numbers. Although the abacus does not qualify as a mechanical calculator, it certainly stands proud as one of first mechanical aids to calculation.
The type of abacus now best known is represented by a frame with sliding counters. Ten parallel wires strung between two boards on a frame, with nine beads on each wire.
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Egyptians and Romans

One of the methods that the Egyptians used to measure time was the water clock, or Clepsydra, which consisted of a container of water with a small hole in the bottom through which the water escaped. Units of time were marked on the side of the container, and the length of the units corresponding to day and night could be adjusted by varying the distance between the markings or by modifying the shape of the container; for example, by having the top wider than the bottom

Actually, it's easy for us to rest on our laurels and smugly criticize ideas of the past with the benefit of hindsight (the one exact science), but the Egyptians were certainly not alone. As an example we might consider Roman numerals, in which I = 1, V = 5, X = 10, L = 50, C = 100, D = 500, M = 1,000, and so forth. Now try to multiply CCLXV by XXXVIII as quickly as you can. In fact Roman numerals were used extensively in England until the middle of the 17th century, and are still used to some extent to this day; for example, the copyright notice on films and television programs often indicates the year in Roman numerals!
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1st Century BC

The Antikythera mechanism, used for registering and predicting the motion of the stars and planets, is dated to the first century B.C.
Very little indeed, is known about ancient celestial navigation, besides indisputable proof that it did, in fact, occur. It is worth noting, however, that the man who invented trigonometry and first scientifically catalogued the stars' positions was Hipparchus of Rhodes. More than one ancient system of latitude and longitude the meridians crossed at Rhodes and that Poseidonius's travels and mechanisms found support at the same place where Geminus did his writings--and inspired or built the Antikythera mechanism.
Around 76 B.C., the intricate astronomical computer was lost with the rest of a treasure-ship's cargo. It was discovered off the coast of Greece in 1901. Derek De Solla Price analyzed and published its construction and nature decades after its recovery, however since his "Gears from the Greeks" in 1975, little attention has been paid to our most exciting relic of advanced ancient technology. See The Antikythera Mechanism's Implications for detail.
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200 AD Binary numbers

The earliest known use of a binary (two digit code) numbering system dates back to 2nd century Southern India. Pingala's Chhandahshastra used binary numbers to classify musical meters. Pingala formed a matrix in order to give a unique value to each meter, but wrote from left to right, instead of right to left, as binary is written today. For example, the decimal number 5, which is equivalent to 0100, would be written 0010, which is actually equivalent to 2 by today's binary number system. Pingala started his representations with 1 instead of 0, like today's system. These are very important for our interpretation. No matter where the origin of binary numbers comes from, we can not ignore them. Morse code consists of groups of dots and dashes which represents letters of the alphabet in another two-symbol code, and binary forms the basis of all computer programming.
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1500 Leonardo Da Vinci

Many references cite the French mathematician, physicist, and theologian, Blaise Pascal as being credited with the invention of the first operational calculating machine called the Arithmetic Machine However, it now appears that the first mechanical calculator may have been conceived by Leonardo da Vinci almost one hundred and fifty years earlier than Pascal's machine

A genius: painter, musician, sculptor, architect, engineer, and so on. However, his contributions to mechanical calculation remained hidden until the rediscovery of two of his notebooks in 1967. These notebooks, which date from sometime around the 1500s, contained drawings of a mechanical calculator, and working models of da Vinci's device have since been constructed by IBM. top>>   

1623First Calculator


Wilhelm Schickard builds the first mechanical calculator in 1623. It can work with six digits, and carries digits across columns. It works, but never makes it beyond the prototype stage. Schickard is a professor at the University of Tubingen, Germany.
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1614 John Napier and Logarithms

John Napier was a Scottish mathematician and theologian. He is chiefly remembered for introducing logarithms into mathematics. Logs allow multiplication and division to be reduced to addition and subtraction. After travelling the continent Napier began his mathematical work in 1573 by attempting to systemise algebraic knowledge. His desire to abolish the drudgery of calculation resulted in the invention of logarithms in 1649. More detail here>>. My thanks again to Graham Kirby for the notes and pictures for this entry.
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1644 The Pascaline

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician, physicist, philosopher, inventor who was educated by his father Etienne, who was the presiding judge of the tax court. At the age of 11 Blaise had calculated for himself the first 23 propositions of Euclid, and at 16 he published a paper on solid geometry.
Between 1642 and 1644 Pascal invented the Pascaline to help his father in tax computations. The Pascaline was the first significant calculating machine. The numbers to be added together are dialled in via the row of numbered wheels at the bottom, and the result shows at the top. The machine was also capable of subtraction. It has the capacity for eight digits, but has trouble carrying and its gears tend to jam. Pictures here>> (may be slow loading). My thanks again to Graham Kirby for the notes and pictures for this entry.
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1679 Leibnitz Calculator


Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716) first discussed binary in the West. He was a German mathematician looking for a way to represent all logical thought through a universal mathematical language. Binary numbers represented opposites for Leibniz, such as black vs. white, or yes vs. no. He introduced the idea in "De Arte Combinatoria" (On the Art of Combination).
Leibnitz constructed an improved version of the Pascaline. He argued that all reasoning is reducible to an ordered combination of elements. This is an important factor in computer science theory. In 1679 he perfected the binary system of notation which is essential to the development of computers.
The Leibnitz calculator was used for addition with numbered wheels for input, and a second set at right angles for output. For multiplication the same wheels were used but with a different mechanism. The vital component was the stepped wheel. This was a cylindrical drum containing nine teeth of varying length. The mechanism was driven by a handle. Division was performed by operating the same mechanism in reverse. Pictures here>> (may be slow loading). My thanks again to Graham Kirby for the notes and pictures for this entry.
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1801 The punch card

One of the fundamentals of computing was developed during the Industrial Revolution by a Frenchman named Joseph Jacquard. He perfected the first punch card machine - a loom capable of weaving pictures into cloth to match a set of commands on the cards. When Jacquard introduced his machine, he faced a suspicious public and was physically attacked in Lyon, where his machine was destroyed.

With his punched cards, the Frenchman had effectively found a way of communicating with machines. The language was limited to two commands: hole and no hole, but the binary system is universal in all modern day machines. Later, the system launched technology in the US and saw the birth of International Business Machines (IBM).

Herman Hollerith devised a system of encoding data on cards through a series of punched holes. Hollerith's machine - used in the 1890 US census - read the cards by passing them through electrical contacts. Closed circuits indicating hole positions could then be selected and counted. His Tabulating Machine Company of 1896 was a predecessor to IBM. The system was so useful for mundane, repetitive jobs that it was widely accepted and spread to Europe, where IBM marked its darkest moment by supplying Hitler with a method of tracking the progress of his genocide.
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1830 Babbage's Difference Engine

In the early 19th century, the process of generating mathematical tables, such as logarithms, was handed to large teams of people performing calculations manually - a process that took a very long time. Due to the fact that these people were employed solely to compute tables, they became known as computers, a term that remained a job description into the 1940s. However, to speed this computational process up, British mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage proposed that a machine, called The Difference Engine, be created to specifically perform these tasks.

He presented a model to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1821. Its purpose was to tabulate polynomials using a numerical method called the differences method (hence the difference machine). The Society approved the idea, and this in turn enabled him to get a grant of £1500 by the British Government in 1823. This essentially led to the design of a mechanical 'Computer', which used a series of gears to calculate numbers using the mathematical method of differences. Construction started on this machine,

Things went wrong. First he fell out with his engineer Joseph Clement. He accused him of overcharging and he walked out on Babbage. The internal friction and gearing available at the time were not good enough for the models to be completed plus vibrations were a constant problem. Then he kept changing his mind about the design of the machine building a bigger one called the Difference Engine 2 before completing the first engine. By 1833 he ran out of money after £17000 had been spent with no satisfactory result.  Babbage later revised his plans in a design covering an incredible 1,000 square feet of paper, but despite the intricacy of planning, the government decided against building it. Robert Peel sarcastically said "if the machine were ever to be built is should be set to calculate its own usefulness".

A picture with more detail, thanks to Graham Kirby, can be found here>> There is a great deal of information and a working model of the Difference Engine (built in 1991 to celebrate the centenary of Babbage's death),  in the Science Museum in London. Check here>>
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1834 The Analytical Engine

While the Difference Engine was considered a breakthrough in the development of automatic computing devices, Babbage's next idea - the Analytical Engine - was far more influential. This new device was more comparable to the computers of today. This was the Analytical Engine.

The design was based on Joseph Marie Jacquard's sewing loom, which used punched cards to determine how a sewing design would be carried out. Babbage adapted this design so that it would create mathematical actions instead. The Analytical Engine had input devices based on punched cards, as per Jacquard's design, an arithmetic processor that calculated numbers, a control unit that determined that the correct task was carried out, an output mechanism and a memory where numbers could be stored whilst waiting their turn to be processed. It was this device that was the world's first computer. A concrete design for this emerged by 1835; however, because of his failures involving the Difference Engine, the engine was never built. In 1842, following repeated failures to obtain funding from the First Lord of the Treasury, Babbage approached Sir Robert Peel for funding. Peel refused, and offered Babbage a knighthood instead. This was refused in turn by Babbage. Matters came to a halt at this point and the machine remained on paper. 

Babbage then worked with a brilliant mathematician named Augusta Ada Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, who created a program for the Engine and is now credited as being the first ever computer programmer. She describes the Analytical Engine as weaving "algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves. Her published analysis of the Analytical Engine is our best record of its programming potential. In it she outlines the fundamentals of computer programming, including data analysis, looping and memory addressing. here is a great deal of information and a working model of the Difference Engine in the Science Museum in London. Check here>>

1837 The Telegraph

In 1837, the American inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse developed the first American electric telegraph, which was based on simple patterns of "dots" and "dashes" called Morse Code being transmitted over a single wire.

The telegraph quickly proliferated thanks to the relative simplicity of Morse's system. However, a problem soon arose in that operators could only transmit around ten words a minute, which meant that they couldn't keep up with the public's seemingly insatiable desire to send messages to each other. This was a classic example of a communications bottleneck.
Thus, in 1857, only twenty years after the invention of the telegraph, Sir Charles Wheatstone (the inventor of the taccordion) introduced the first application of paper tapes as a medium for the preparation, storage, and transmission of data.

Sir Charles' paper tape used two rows of holes to represent Morse's dots and dashes. Outgoing messages could be prepared off-line on paper tape and transmitted later.
By 1858, a Morse paper tape transmitter could operate at 100 words a minute. Unsuspectingly, Sir Charles had also provided the American public with a way to honor their heroes and generally have a jolly good time, because used paper tapes were to eventually become a key feature of so-called ticker-tape parades.
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1844 Morse messages

There is Samuel B. Morse and the first telegram. Delivered on May 24, 1844, the message read "What hath god wrought!" Morse knew that he was making history.

1854 Boolean logic

It wasn't until the 19th century that binary numbering was fully realised in a mathematical system by George Boole, a British mathematician. His groundbreaking paper of 1854, An investigation into the Laws of Thought, on Which are founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and probabilities, introduced the idea of Boolean logic.
In 1867, Charles Sanders Pierce introduces Boolean algebra to the United States and In 1940, American mathematician and electrical engineer Claude Shannon used Boolean logic to analyse and optimise relay-switching circuits in his Master's thesis for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits. This is widely viewed as one of the original works of American computer science.
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1855 George Schuetz

A Swiss named George Schuetz successfully built a model of the Difference Engine. It had been based on a 1834 design by Babbage. Babbage was amongst those who inspected it and gave a positive opinion. In 1859, the British Government purchased one of these for use in the Registrar General's Office. The purchase had no effect on the refusals to build an analytical engine. Partly through Babbage's efforts at gear making for these machines, the British had superior machinery for the next few decades, and this contributed to the superiority of the British navy in the first world war.

1856 Undersea cabling

Still essential to the way we communicate, undersea cabling dates back to the age of steam. Work on the first cross-pond cable began in 1856, but the first attempt at connecting the two ends in the middle saw them sink without trace.
1865 the transatlantic cable was laid again but broke after three weeks, what was needed was a new better cable but no ship in the world was big enough to carry this cable except the Great Eastern designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The Atlantic Telegraph Company chartered the SS Great Eastern to accomplished this, large areas of her interior were taken out to accommodate the cable needed. Great Eastern started laying the cable at Ireland but half way the cable broke and the crew of the Great Eastern gave up. It wasn't until the next year the Great Eastern tried again ending with success of laying the cable.
1869 the French government chartered her to lay another transatlantic cable that ended in success.

within 20 years several thousand miles of undersea cable linked the world, forming the backbone of the communications network. All intercontinental telegraphic communications data used this method, speeding up the transfer of news from weeks to seconds.
The telegraph brought changes that surpassed those of the telephone or those of the present Internet revolution. The telegraph was the quantum leap of communication's speed.
Today's cables are a light year away from those early attempts, but many of the basic principles remain the same. Dual pipes such as FLAG Telecom and Global Tele Systems' FA-1 connect London Paris and New York at speeds of 2.4terabits/sec in each direction. This capacity can carry over 200 hours of digital video per second, 30 million clear voice channels, or over two trillion bits of IP or data traffic per second. More information on the great steamship SS Great Eastern can be found here>>
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1868 Qwerty Keyboards


This photo is a QWERTY keyboard, not all that different from the keyboard under your fingers on your computer today. However the one you see in the picture is 122 YEARS OLD!

The QWERTY keyboard, was present on the very First Typewriter. Despite more than a century of efforts to dislodge it. It is commonly believed that the original layout of keys on a typewriter was intended to slow the typist down, but this isn't strictly true. The main inventor of the first commercial typewriter, Christopher Latham Sholes, obviously wished to make their typewriters as fast as possible in order to convince people to use them. However, one problem with the first machines was that the keys jammed when the operator typed at any real speed, so Sholes invented what was to become known as the Sholes keyboard.

What Sholes attempted to do was to separate the letters of as many common digraphs as possible. But in addition to being a pain to use, the resulting layout also left something to be desired on the digraph front; for example, "ed", "er", "th", and "tr" all use keys that are close to each other. Unfortunately, even after the jamming problem was overcome by the use of springs, the monster was loose amongst us -- existing users didn't want to change and there was no turning back.

The original Sholes keyboard (which is known to us as the QWERTY keyboard, because of the ordering of the first six keys in the third row) is interesting for at least two other reasons: first, there was no key for the number '1', because the inventors decided that the users could get by with the letter 'I'; and second, there was no shift key, because the first typewriters could only type upper case letters. (Sholes also craftily ensured that the word " Typewriter" could be constructed using only the top row of letters. This was intended to aid salesmen when they were giving demonstrations.) (Nothing's simple in this world. For example, instead of the top row of characters saying QWERTY, keyboards in France and Germany spell out AZERTY and QWERTZU, respectively.)

Speaking of which, the figure left shows the 'A', 'S', 'D', and 'F' keys in white to indicate that these are the home keys for the left hand. Similarly, the other four keys shown in white are the home keys for the right hand. The terms home keys and home row refer to the base position for your fingers (excluding thumbs, which are used to hit the space bar) when you're practicing touch typing, which means that you type by touch without looking at the keyboard.

Sholes didn't invent these terms, because he actually gave very little thought to the way in which people would use his invention. The end result was that everyone was left to their own devices, effectively meaning that two-fingered typists using the "hunt-and-peck" method ruled the world. It was not until 1888 that a law clerk named Frank E. McGurrin won a highly publicized typing contest with his self-taught touch-typing technique, and a new era was born. .. QWERTY survives. It is the keyboard people LOVE to hate, but it is as much a cultural standard as the Roman alphabet, the steering wheel, or the 4x3 TV screen
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1869 Jeavons logical machine was notable because it was the first machine that could solve a logical problem faster than that problem could be solved without using the machine! Jevons was an aficionado of Boolean logic, and his solution was something of a cross between a logical abacus and a piano (in fact it was sometimes referred to as a "Logic Piano". This device, which was about 3 feet tall, consisted of keys, levers, and pulleys, along with letters that could be either visible or hidden. When the operator pressed keys representing logical operations, the appropriate letters appeared to reveal the result.
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1873 The Electric Motor

In 1873 the first commercially successful DC motor was demonstrated in Vienna at an exhibition by Zenobe Theophille Gamme, a Belgian electrical engineer. Even considering the IT realm alone, we would be at a loss without the electric motor. Despite the increase in the use of solid-state technology such as Flash memory, this mechanical device continues to drive the industry. Without the electric motor we wouldn't have the benefit of hard disk drives, DVD-ROM drives, floppy drives and any other storage unit that requires angular velocity. The electric motor has assisted in keeping electronics cool, which has become even necessary in recent years. We now see more fans attached to more heat sinks than ever before as processors and hard disks become operationally hotter and hotter.
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1874 The first Typewriter

It was called the "Sholes & Glidden Type Writer," and it was produced by the gun makers E. Remington & Sons in Ilion, New York from 1874-1878. It was not a great success (not more than 5,000 were sold), but it founded a worldwide industry, and it brought mechanization to dreary, time-consuming office work. See the very First Typewriter>>.

1876 Graham Bell

And there was the dawn of the telephone era, heralded by Alexander Graham Bell's less grand, though still legendary, summons to his assistant on March 10, 1876: "Mr. Watson, come here; I want you."
 

1881 Allan Marquand.

The next real advance in logic machines was made in 1881, by means of the ingenious use of rods, levers, and springs, Marquand extended Jevons' work to produce the Marquand Logic Machine. Like Jevons' device, Marquand's machine could only handle four variables, but it was smaller and significantly more intuitive to use. (Following the invention of his logic machine, Marquand abandoned logical pursuits to become a professor of art and archeology at Princeton University.)
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1883 Edison's light bulb

Edison's light bulbs employed a conducting filament mounted in a glass bulb from which the air was evacuated leaving a vacuum. Passing electricity through the filament caused it to heat up enough to become incandescent and radiate light, while the vacuum prevented the filament from oxidizing and burning up

In 1883 Edison continued to experiment with his light bulbs and found that he could detect electrons flowing through the vacuum from the lighted filament to a metal plate mounted inside the bulb. This discovery subsequently became known as the Edison Effect.
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1888 LCD

An Austrian Botanist, Friedrich Reiniitzer discovered the liquid crystal, but it wasn't until 1968 that scientists at the RCA group developed the first display using the technology.
(the birth of LCD screens)
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1892 Burroughs Calculator

William Seward Burroughs (1857-98) American inventor of adding and calculating machines, patented in 1892 the first commercially successful adding machine. With Dorr E Felt, Burroughs pioneered the development of adding machines by the provision for the first time of a full keyboard. Burroughs unique contribution was the addition of a printing device to record numbers and totals.
The company founded has now grown into one of the worlds major computer manufacturers.
Thanks to Graham Kirby for supplying the illustrations
. Picture here>>
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1895 Marconi

While the exact wording of Guglielmo Marconi's first wireless transmission in 1895 is not the stuff of legend, it didn't take long for Marconi to be heaped with honours and awards, topped off by a Nobel Prize for physics in 1909. Even 30 years later the inauguration of wireless service between England and South Africa felt like an historic event to the participants. "We speak across time and space. . . . May the new power promote peace between all nations," read the Marconi gram sent from Sir Edgar Walton, high commissioner of South Africa, to General J. B. M. Hertzog, South Africa's prime minister, in 1924.
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