The Difference Engine

A Note respecting the Application of Machinery to the Calculation of Astronomical Tables

It’s episode 200 and I’m thinking back 200 years ago to June 14, 1822 when Charles Babbage presented a machine that could efficiently calculate polynomials.

The difference engine, as he called it, is considered one of the pioneering works of computing.

He later designed an improved difference engine number 2. But, it was never built in his lifetime.

Not built until 1991, when the Science Museum, London finished the first ever implementation of the calculating engine – only four years before JavaScript’s invention.

The museum completed the full engine’s design in 2002, weighing in at 5 tons of iron, steel, and bronze with 8,000 parts spanning 11 feet long and 7 feet high.

And, to be fair, 8,000 parts for 5 metric tons of computing sounds like the physical manifestation of today’s NPM package dependency trees.

In addition to riffing off 200 years of computing history, we had Keith Hoodlet join in as a co-host. He’s responsible for starting the ASW podcast in the first place, having hosted it from episode 0 through 55. I dove in at episode 56 to continue the journey.

Check out this episode's show notes for links to the articles we covered. And please take a moment to subscribe.