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Charles Babbage, his Difference Engine and the Phone Company

Make no mistake. This is a major computer science milestone. Charles Babbage has begun the design and building of a difference engine... the first programmable computer. He gets the idea after struggling with error-prone calculations. He marvels at the simple system that Paris mathematicians have worked out for building reliable logarithm tables. They have broken down the calculation into small and less error-prone steps that allows anyone with basic knowledge of addition and subtraction to perform the calculation. Babbage has the idea that a mechanical device could be programmed to perform the menial labor of addition and subtraction, and he sets out to design one. Although he never builds the whole machine, he has set the world on the path of computer programming, podcasting, and everything. In the late 1980s someone will take his plans and build the difference engine to see if it will really work. The answer is yes. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
I built my first computer as an electronics engineering project in college...from paper design to a real computer from scratch. Those were the early days when men were men and a 40 megabyte hard drive was considered an over-indulgence. (I had one.) My phone bill would arrive on a computer punch card with the warning, "Do not fold, spindle or mutilate." Otherwise, a damaged card would cause the phone company problems. I can hear you laughing, but the phone company was frightening. When they came out with their new logo it looked like the Death Star! American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) would not let you move their phones from room to room without calling in one of their specialists to rip it out of the wall for you. The comedian, Lily Tomlin, made her name poking fun at the phone company, but if you watch one of her routines, you get a sense of the amount of information the phone company was collecting just by using those punch cards. "Privileged information? Don't be silly. We're the phone company." [Click Here.]) [3] [4]

Here Come the Mountain Men

The Rocky Mountain Fur Company is established to provide funding for the political future of William Henry Ashley. Ashley has suffered a number of financial setbacks, but he manages to get funding for a fur company. He puts out ads and attracts over 100 men... sometimes known as Ashley's Hundred or the Mountain Men. Jim Bridger will become foremost. Kit Carson will become well-known and the subject of dime-store novels about the West. The company pushes west into the Rocky Mountains because much of the easier land is taken. There is also a change in the law that causes the fur trade to change the way it does business. It is now illegal to sell alcohol to Indians. In the fur business, it is the Indians who do the actual trapping. They bring the furs to a trading post and negotiate a price, usually in liquor. Without liquor, the Indians are less willing to trade (and less pliable). Thus, the Mountain Men must learn to trap. They bring back furs to improvised trading posts or what they call the "brigade-rendezvous." The Rocky Mountain Fur Company will be somewhat successful. More importantly, the company will provide settlers and the government with ready-made guides to an unknown wilderness. [5] [6]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Everything I know about the Mountain Men I learned from Tom Clancy novels, so no help there. I did want to discuss the alcohol problem within Indian tribes. Although alcohol and drug abuse rates are higher within some tribes there is a persistent rumor that Indians cannot hold their liquor. It is a myth. Although there is tendency amongst some Native Americans to an elevated heart rate and "flushing" when drinking alcohol, there is no genetic marker associated with this reaction and Native Americans metabolize alcohol the same as anyone else. Nevertheless, the myth persists such as in the movie "The Hallelujah Trail" (1965) in which the US Army must escort a wagon train of whiskey through Indian country. (BEGIN SPOILER) The Indians are bribed with alcohol, so that most of the wagon train can get through. The Indians get drunk and you can guess how it plays out. (END SPOILER). It is an old movie but still worth watching.... especially with Donald Pleasence as "Oracle Jones", filling the role as a Mountain Man. He is hilarious. [7] [8] [9]

In Other News

  • Louis Pasteur is born. Pasteurization is the process of heating milk or wine to kill off bacteria. He will become the father of microbiology." [10] [11]
  • Gregor Mendel is born. He will turn cross-breeding into the science of genetics. [10] [12]
  • Ulysses S. Grant is born. As a general he will win the American Civil War for President Lincoln and he will be elected President himself. [10] [13]
  • Harriet Tubman is born into slavery in Maryland. She will help slaves escape via the Underground Railroad. FYI, it is not a railroad, but a network of escape routes and safe houses. [14] [15]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1822, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Difference engine - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “J. H. Müller, an engineer in the Hessian army, conceived of the idea of a difference machine. This was described in a book published in 1786, but Müller was unable to obtain funding to progress with the idea.[1][2][3] On 14 June 1822, Charles Babbage proposed the use of such a machine in a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society, entitled 'Note on the application of machinery to the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables'.[4] This machine used the decimal number system and was powered by cranking a handle. The British government was interested, since producing tables was time-consuming and expensive and they hoped the difference engine would make the task more economical.”
  2. Alex Shrugged notes: I was a computer engineering major in college, a video game programmer and BIOS programmer.
  3. Difference engine - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “The conversion of the original design drawings into drawings suitable for engineering manufacturers' use revealed some minor errors in Babbage's design (possibly introduced as a protection in case the plans were stolen),[9] which had to be corrected. Once completed, both the engine and its printer worked flawlessly, and still do. The difference engine and printer were constructed to tolerances achievable with 19th-century technology, resolving a long-standing debate as to whether Babbage's design would actually have worked.”
  4. Hilarious Lily Tomlin: 'Mr. Veedul, this is the Phone Company calling!' (snort! snort!). YouTube (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016.
  5. Jim Bridger - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “James Felix Bridger (March 17, 1804 – July 17, 1881) was among the foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States during the decades of 1820–1850, as well as mediating between native tribes and encroaching whites. He was of English ancestry, and his family had been in North America since the early colonial period.”
  6. Ross, Alexander. The fur hunters of the Far West. Smith, Elder. 0665402287. ISBN 0665402287. 
  7. The Hallelujah Trail (1965). imdb.com (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “A wagon train heads for Denver with a cargo of whisky for the miners. Chaos ensues as the Temperance League, the US cavalry, the miners and the local Indians all try to take control”
  8. The Hallelujah Trail Trailer. YouTube (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “A wagon train heads for Denver with a cargo of whisky for the miners. Chaos ensues as the Temperance League, the US cavalry, the miners and the local Indians all try to take control of the valuable cargo.”
  9. An examination of ALDH2 genotypes, alcohol metabolism and the flushing response in Native Americans. - PubMed - NCBI. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “The rate of alcohol metabolism was shown to be the same among whites, Native flushers and Native nonflushers.”
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 388-389. 
  11. Louis Pasteur - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “He is best known to the general public for his invention of the technique of treating milk and wine to stop bacterial contamination, a process now called pasteurization.”
  12. Gregor Mendel - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “Though farmers had known for centuries that crossbreeding of animals and plants could favor certain desirable traits, Mendel's pea plant experiments conducted between 1856 and 1863 established many of the rules of heredity, now referred to as the laws of Mendelian inheritance.”
  13. Ulysses S. Grant - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “Grant worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy in the American Civil War.”
  14. Harriet Tubman - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends,[2] using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.”
  15. Underground Railroad - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 July 2016. “The escape network was not literally underground nor a railroad. It was figuratively 'underground' in the sense of being an underground resistance. It was known as a 'railroad' by way of the use of rail terminology in the code.”

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