The Invincible M.A.E. (harleymae) wrote,
The Invincible M.A.E.

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Jacquard's Web

Met tersa and caitlin at her hotel in SF on Saturday for dinner at Max's (mmm!) and we all geeked out for hours about hockey. :P

Just finished reading Jacquard's Web (tagline: How a hand loom led to the birth of the information age) that I find really fascinating because it's about the history of computers, and how it all started with - of all things - a weaving loom. Jacquard invented a loom that read punched cards (that were actually used in computers until the '80s!) and produced the design as specified by the cards. Here's an example:

This is actually a weaving, and the design was stored on 24000 punched cards.

The most interesting part of the book for me is that there could actually have been a functioning computer as early as the 1840s. Charles Babbage had a design for an "Analytical Engine" that would have worked, but he wasn't able to get funding to actually make it. This computer would have been made of cogwheels and powered by steam. The lack of reliable means to perform complex calculations was holding back several branches of science, even back then, and I can't even imagine what kind of advances could have been made at the time with a computer, but otherwise using the technology of its day.

Perhaps our lives wouldn't be all that different, but the form and operation of every day devices might have been.

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