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Babbage, A Look Back

Hemos posted about 13 years ago | from the recognize-our-roots dept.

Science 261

A reader writes "System Toolbox just started a new computer history section in an effort to get us geeks in touch with our "roots." The current article in the monthly column focuses on Charles Babbage. The editor and author hope to raise awareness of our past so that scenes like this won't continue to take place. A big hill to climb, but worth the effort."

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can't believe (2)

joss (1346) | about 13 years ago | (#2440291)

they didn't mention that rod based mechanical computers are likely to return with nano-tech, with carbon chains as the basic rods

Re:can't believe (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440297)

jeez fp ONtopic? get a life dickwad

"Flame OFF!" - The Anonymous Flaming Troll

Re:can't believe (1)

Pl@Paris (198203) | about 13 years ago | (#2440301)

What about organic computers ??

I remember reading long ago about organic molecules being able to "switch" between two polarized states under the influence if an outer electronic field. This was supposed to be a future for nano registries...

Re:can't believe (2)

Schwarzchild (225794) | about 13 years ago | (#2440343)

What about organic computers ??

What about growing brain matter??? I remember reading about Japanese researchers in the early 90s who were trying to grow brain tissue that could be used for parallel processing type projects.

future computing (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440304)

Look at the carbon nanotube articles over at, they are a strong possibility for the real future of computing. Has everyone seen the video now at tomshardware of the Athlon smoking itself in 3 seconds? Carbon nanotubes do their business at room temperature!

Re:future computing (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440315)

Do they wipe afterwards at room temperature too?

wasn't it because of babbage... (1)

motherhead (344331) | about 13 years ago | (#2440308)

...that webster's changed the definition of a computer from a person to a machine?

Re:wasn't it because of babbage... (2)

rm-r (115254) | about 13 years ago | (#2440331)

I doubt it, he never completed a machine- and the big one, the analytical engine (as opossed to the difference engine) never left the drawing board until a couple of years ago when some guys at the British Science Museum built it.

Don't think so... (3, Informative)

HiQ (159108) | about 13 years ago | (#2440390)

In the sciencemuseum in Londen they built Difference engine no.2. See Babbage at the science museum []

Re:wasn't it because of babbage... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440397)

The big question is, was Babbage as queer as Turing?

Whats which ponce brits and computers?

Can they match UCB?

Re:wasn't it because of babbage... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440422)

No, he got to work over Ada Lovelace...

Re:wasn't it because of babbage... (2, Informative)

wfaulk (135736) | about 13 years ago | (#2440372)

In my OED, the first reference listed (which is supposed to be the earliest available printed example) for the usage of ``computer'' as a device rather than a person is from the January 22, 1898 issue of Engineering:
This was ... a computer made by Mr. W. Cox. He described it as of the nature of a circular slide rule.
Babbage had died 27 years prior.

Re:wasn't it because of babbage... (3)

Paul Komarek (794) | about 13 years ago | (#2440421)

I've seen it suggested that it wasn't until the 1950's or so that "computer" referred to a machine. Whether the machines in question were IBM punch machines or the UNIVAC, I don't recall. Since my copy of "History of Modern Computing" hasn't been returned yet, that's where this comment ends.

-Paul Komarek

First Dildo Post!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440310)

Mad propz to my full hairy man boobs.


Re:First Dildo Post!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440335)

You mean:

:o) 8O=;

Re:First Dildo Post!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440347)

I would, but mine are DD and I never wear a bra.


Re:First Dildo Post!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440401)

You were moderated Offtopic=2. I guess they wanted to moderate down your two breasts individually:

/ *\

Maybe you should consider wearing a bra. Nowhere does it say "for women only". Nothing to be ashamed of.

Just being pedantic.... (1)

N Monkey (313423) | about 13 years ago | (#2440313)

"Analytical Society taking on the very way math was done in England."

Actually they do maths in Britain. ;-)

Re:Just being pedantic.... (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440444)

Absolutely. "Math" ith a Roman Catholic thervith.

The Difference Machine (1)

Voidhobo (219337) | about 13 years ago | (#2440314)

For more on Babbage I suggest reading Gibson and Sterling's excellent novel The Difference Machine (which Babbage invented).

Re:The Difference Machine (3, Insightful)

dangermouse (2242) | about 13 years ago | (#2440323)

The novel is actually titled The Difference Engine.

And I wouldn't read it for informative purposes (especially the historical sort), but it is a pretty good book.

Reading List (2, Informative)

luckykaa (134517) | about 13 years ago | (#2440465)

I'd suggest "The Cogwheel Brain" By Doron Swade (ISBN: 0 316 64847 7 ) for a very good history of the Difference Engine, as well as an account of the the Science Museum (London) building a replica.

For some nice hacker (i.e. cracker and phreaker) history, I'd suggest Approaching Zero by Brian Clough and Paul Mungo.

That's nothing.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440318)

I use my rod to compute with daily, and it runs at room temperature without a heatsink or fan.

Re:That's nothing.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440472)

I use my rod to compute with daily, and it runs at room temperature without a heatsink or fan.

I have one of those. I like to call it my "Captain Crunch whistle". I use it to get free phone calls; actually, I don't get free calls, but it does save me from typing in the numbers manually.

I plead ignorance (2, Interesting)

Kargan (250092) | about 13 years ago | (#2440322)

So, um, I guess I should feel dumb for not knowing who 90% of those people were either?

I mean, I'm not l33t or anything, I'm just someone who knows how to fix computers...and would it help me or affect my everyday life if I knew?

Re:I plead ignorance (1)

rm-r (115254) | about 13 years ago | (#2440351)

That's right, you should feel dumb. I'm not l33t either, but you should know the history of your art for no other reason that to not repeat mistakes (and so as not to have to reinvent the wheel)

Re:I plead ignorance (1)

maxpublic (450413) | about 13 years ago | (#2440455)

No, it won't have any effect whatsoever on your technical skills. Some of the history is mildly interesting, but the only people who seem to think it absolutely crucial are those who grew up during the time...kinda like Boomers raving about Elvis or the Beatles.


Re:I plead ignorance (5, Insightful)

driftingwalrus (203255) | about 13 years ago | (#2440503)

You should feel dumb. This is your TRADE. You should know at least a little about it's history. If you don't recognize names like Ken Thompson and Charles Babbage, you are in a sorry state indeed.

Do you want to know how it helps? It helps you to appreciate where it came from, the work involved in creating these machines and the passion others have had for them. It would help you to understand where YOU fit in the grand scheme of things, and it'll help you to have a little pride in your work. It's all about respect. It's about respecting the genius that made your trade possible, respecting the machine they have built and respecting yourself enough to do the best job you can. As a man who works with computers, you have to live up to the promise of your forebears. No one expects you to be another Babbage or Thompson, but you have a duty to yourself to understand the commitment they had and reflect at least some of it.

You may think of yourself as just someone who fixes computers, but you aren't. You are a steward of the legacy of those that came before, all of us are. All of us have a duty to maintain the tradition and memory of these men. Without there contributions and endless hours of work and passion for the machine, we wouldn't even have computers.

So, pick up a book. Read. The history of our trade is a glorious thing, full of great men and brilliant engineering. Only through it's study can we hope to go as far as they did.

I wish I had some mod points. (2)

dmaxwell (43234) | about 13 years ago | (#2440636)

That sums up my feelings exactly. I too "just fix" them when they break...Well to be fair I'm doing more and more sysadmining but I'm still not above changing the toner cartridge for the secretaries. Nonetheless, I'm awed by people like Turing, Zuse and Hopper. You're +5 insightful in my book.

Good Historical Overview (3, Informative)

mikey_boy (125590) | about 13 years ago | (#2440325)

I found Computer: A History of the Information Machine [] , by Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray gave a good overview of the history of computing ... not too detailed but gives enough to lead you to know what you want to find out more about ...

Martin Campbell-Kelly (1)

Stephen Williams (23750) | about 13 years ago | (#2440601)

...was the guy who taught History of Computing at the University of Warwick when I was studying there three years ago. His course was fascinating, and he had a real passion for the subject. If you're interested in Babbage et al and you ever get the chance to talk to Dr. Campbell-Kelly, do.


Babbage - a geek who made it? (2, Funny)

tomknight (190939) | about 13 years ago | (#2440327)

"...[Babbage] became the hit of London's social circle and it was often the mark of a party's success or failure as to whether Babbage had accepted an invitation to attend...."

Ahh, geek as social success.... good to see that some things never change ;-)


Re:Babbage - a geek who made it? (2)

Schwarzchild (225794) | about 13 years ago | (#2440353)

I believe that Charles Babbage was one of the people who held the position of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.

Perhaps it was that they had one of the leading minds in their midst that excited them...sort of like having Hawking drop in on an episode of Star Trek.

*LOL* (1, Redundant)

Troed (102527) | about 13 years ago | (#2440330)

I wonder if this [] Anonymous Coward realised just now what a fool he made of himself yesterday.

Re:*LOL* (1)

Alsee (515537) | about 13 years ago | (#2440355)

I wonder if this [] [] Anonymous Coward realised just now what a fool he made of himself yesterday.

No, you just labeled yourself as humor impaired. His Charles Babbage comment was obviously a joke. Note that it was modded +1 funny.

Re:*LOL* (1, Troll)

Troed (102527) | about 13 years ago | (#2440382)

Anything ignorant americans write is considered funny by the rest of the world :) Slashdot is my main laughter of the day.

Read the whole thread, the americans in there weren't joking - and that's plain scary.

(i.e, one of them said that although yes, Europeans have cellular SMS, no one he knows see the point of having it. I guess the 3/4 of a billion (!) SMS sent _each day_ by the rest of the world just show that we're .. uh .. lagging behind the US? *lol*)

Re:*LOL* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440552)

We laugh at Europeans. Their so jealous, it's comical. Move along now, socialist boy.

Re:*LOL* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440716)

We laugh at Europeans. Their so jealous, it's comical

So does that mean you laugh at the European's jealous as it is comical?

Re:*LOL* (1, Offtopic)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | about 13 years ago | (#2440683)

Please, we are not al ignorant. Unfortunatly many Americans are under educated and do not feel the need to study on their own....even if it is just watching the history channel.

Re:*LOL* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440727)

You USians don't have SMS? That sucks! You guys suck! /bin/laden probably has his terrorist network running rings around you guys with this tech. hahahaha

Re:*LOL* (1)

Troed (102527) | about 13 years ago | (#2440388)

(oh, forgot, it wasn't +1 funny when I linked to it in this thread - I'm quite sure it was my comment about it that caused that moderation just now ;)

Re:*LOL* (1, Offtopic)

s390 (33540) | about 13 years ago | (#2440490)

I'm one of the several hundred thousand Europeans protesting against USA-sponsored terrorism.

By writing that as your sig on Slashdot? Kewl, now there's a way to troll flamebait online without ever having to think up anything cogent or even rise from your keyboard. You must be one of those over-privileged '1337 Eurotrash kids who reads comics instead history, smug in your nanny continent that the USA wrenched from tyranny and then rebuilt and protected from another vile menace for decades, not too long ago. You don't have to be grateful for that (after all, most of it probably happened before you were born). But you do need to understand that when the United States is attacked by tyrants or terrorists, we will proceed to kick ass and take names, make no mistake about it! We won't be asking any permission for self-defense.

I passed through Europe on the way to Kuwait, six months before Iraq invaded to kick off the Gulf War. The Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am 103 was recent history. There were armored personnel carriers on the tarmac at Hamburg airport and very visible security guards in the terminal carrying automatic weapons. Luggage was matched to an individual passenger. Europe was cleaning up small cells of home-grown communist terrorists (Red Brigades, Bader Meinhof, etc.). (Switzerland was even tighter on the trip back - I had to go to an isolated corridor, identify my bags, and open them for search.) Acting out in that environment could have easily gotten you shot dead, official explanations later if ever. You are hopelessly naive.

Re:*LOL* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440520)

"You are hopelessly naive."

Assuming that the United States will get unconditional support becuase it wants to...

"...proceed to kick ass..."

...that's naive! Especially when the US amry displays a fondness for hitting targets like a Red Cross warehouse.

Re:*LOL* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440559)

weak eurotrash bitch. one of our street gangs could take over your piss-ant country. We are A#1 in this world, motherfucker, and don't forget it.

Re:*LOL* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440740)

Sure they would, if they didn't kill one another with their 'friendly fire' you yokels are all thick as pigshit

Re:*LOL* (1, Offtopic)

s390 (33540) | about 13 years ago | (#2440619)

...that's naive! Especially when the US amry displays a fondness for hitting targets like a Red Cross warehouse.

I don't usually reply to AC's, but... _if_ that was an errant bomb (and not a vicious Taliban ruse) it was an error. These things happen, even including "friendly fire" casualties among one's own troops (as happened, unfortunately, in the Gulf War). It's a war. People die. They started it. Remember that.

Re:*LOL* (0, Offtopic)

couch (83548) | about 13 years ago | (#2440743)

They who? the afghani people? The red cross?

A few non-afghani terrorists commited a horrific act. The USA started a war.

Re:*LOL* (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440550)

...smug in your nanny continent that the USA wrenched from tyranny and then rebuilt and protected from another vile menace for decades...

I see. Whereas France had absolutely no role in wrenching the Colonies from tyranny and then protecting them for decades starting in the 1770's?

You don't have to be grateful for that (after all, most of it probably happened before you were born).
obOnTopic - you see the inherent problem with not knowing about Babbage, Richie, ENIAC, MULTICS, Baader-Meinhof, PFLP, and as we'll see further down, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Sherman and Livingston

And you have to admit, there's some cause for reflection when a country protects democracy by overthrowing the elected government of, say, Chile (Allende), protects freedom of expression by trying to get a middle eastern monarchy to shut down al-Jazeera TV, and protects justice by taking massive retaliatory action whilst refusing point blank to make any of the evidence to back up its charges available, surely?

A country of whose president the people of several countries could claim:

...He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences...

In fact, now I come to think of it, just what would be the position, under the new Anti-Terrorism act, of a group of political malcontents getting together in a room in Philadelphia and devising a text that reads:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. ...

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security

Please, the american dream should be a beacon to the world, the very pinnacle of enlightenment thinking. Take the greatest care not to destroy it in its own name.

Your very Affectionate british Cousin


Graduates (5, Insightful)

Gumshoe (191490) | about 13 years ago | (#2440334)

The article posted on binaryfreedom is both fascinating and
disturbing but also, I think, misleading, as it suggests that
only the educational misfits are ignorant of computer history.
This is emphatically untrue

I've recently "graduated" from a University in England and I'm
ashamed. I would estimate that 90% of my class are ignorant of
not only computer history but also of trans-Windows computing in
general. Their goal in life seems to be to make as much money as
possible and the computer industry is the vehicle for that

I wish systemtoolbox all the best in their endeavour but I fear
that the only people who will read these articles will be people
who are interested (and hence already familiar) with this
material already.

Re:Graduates (4, Interesting)

rm-r (115254) | about 13 years ago | (#2440366)

I also just graduated from an English university reading comp. sci. I think you're right on the history aspect, as far as 'trans-Windows' I think that depends on where you go- having said that in the six years I was at uni (I took an, uh, 'scenic' route through my education ;-) I did see the uni become more and more window-centric. The uni I joined was focused on first principals (we had to program in pascal for a year, and not turbopascal or delphi or such, just basic pascal) to give us the tools to equip ourselves for any computing career- the basic learn to learn thing I guess. The uni I left was a lot more into 'tools that employers want to see', ie Windows NT/2000, SQL server, and so on- great for the first couple of years of your career while these tools are still being used but once they're superceded your stuck without first principals and the ability to figure out which tool is best for the job, why, and how to use them IMHO

As far as the history goes though, I suppose you are supposed to be interested in computing, and are supposed to do a lot of background reading, so I suppose it could be argued that you should have built up an amount by yourself...

Not Essex uni by any chance? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440647)

Subject line says it all.

Although I bet nearly every comp. sci. course in the country now thinks the sun shines out of Mr Gates rump.
Education these days *mutter mutter*

Re:Not Essex uni by any chance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440704)

Leeds, I had I friend who went to Leeds Met. uni, where they fell in love with Gates much quicker and he seems to be at a significant disadvantage to me when we compare anyting comp. sci-ish except how to do certain things on Windows NT or Oracle- often he doesn't even know how to do them...

Re:Graduates (4, Interesting)

pubjames (468013) | about 13 years ago | (#2440423)

I also graduated from a university in England, although it was ten years ago now.

I studied a combined degree of biology and computer science, and so I used to take courses from both the biology and the CS schools.

What struck me then was what a bunch of dunderheads the computer scientists where. Sure, they new the finer points of Unix better than I ever will, but if you asked them to write an essay on the importance of computers to society, for instance, they could hardly string two words together - an average biology student could have done a far better job of it. Frankly most of their essays were embarrassing in their childish views, ignorance, poor grammar and spelling.

And my point is? Well, at least in my experience, I think that many people who are hardcore computer enthusiasts generally have a far more myopic view of the world than people from other subject areas. They are socially inept and interested in very little else but computers, and even then in very narrow fields of computers rather than the bigger picture. I don't know if it has changed, but when I graduated many big employeers complained that computer graduates often lacked the most basic skills. Is it like this in the USA too?

Not my experience (2)

Goonie (8651) | about 13 years ago | (#2440588)

Sure the average CS student might not be particularly bright outside their area of expertise, but in my experience at university (in Australia) the average biol student was even worse. The strong students in both areas had interests beyond their subject areas, though, and I'd back the CS student's understanding of biology well ahead the average biol student's understanding of CS.

As far as decent writing skills, CS students weren't great. Biol students were appalling. I know, I read their lab reports - it was a struggle.

Re:Not my experience (2)

pubjames (468013) | about 13 years ago | (#2440626)

Actually, Computer Science teaching seems to be different in Spain (where I currently live) too. For instance, in the UK Computer Science is predominantly a male thing, in Spain it is much more mixed.

So I guess in different countries it is different. Perhaps it is only in the UK where CS students tend to be lacking in other skills.

Re:Graduates (1)

FirstNoel (113932) | about 13 years ago | (#2440707)

My experience in th US is very similar. I for one am not the best when it comes to writing down/expressing my thoughts. I can right in sentance fragments like the best of them. But general writing/speaking skills were never emphasized.

Sometimes it's tough to formulate my thoughts in the correct fashion. It's not because I'm an idiot, (some would think that). I feel like my mind is always way ahead of where I should be.

For programming this is great, kind of like chess, always being x number of moves beyond where you actually are.

As for writing like right now, I have a lot to say but don't expect to see it. I have to defrag my brain first.

Sean D

Re:Graduates (1)

tubs (143128) | about 13 years ago | (#2440489)

Thats amazing, when I started my degree there was a compulsary module we had to take called "The History of Computing". It covered many topics from Babbage to Gates, I would have though every Uni would have had to have something like that - we even got to watch a video series "The Dream Machine" - the highlight of the first year :-)

Re:Graduates (2)

pubjames (468013) | about 13 years ago | (#2440516)

we even got to watch a video series "The Dream Machine" - the highlight of the first year :-)

I think this highlights the low intellectual standards of most CS courses, at least in the UK -the fact that they sat you down in front of a video series as part of the course.

As a biology undergraduate, a lecturer would have given you a list of books and papers to read in your own time. You would then be expected to have sufficient knowledge and analytical power to stand in front of the class to debate an issue, such as "Has the development of computers had a positive or negative impact on peoples lives?" or whatever.

I can imagine a bunch of CS students sat in front of a video thinking "this is great, at least they're not making us do proper work".

Re:Graduates (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440538)

Went to Manchester too, huh?

Re:Graduates (3, Insightful)

BluesMoon (100100) | about 13 years ago | (#2440501)

Well, we were taught comp sci in school. We started in the 8th grade (in 1988). The first three months were complete history, starting with the ABACUS, to the slide rule, napier's bones, babbage, gottfried von liebnitz, lady ada lovelace, and the rest. We ended up at the ENIAC, EDSAC and the UNIVAC, and then moved on to the binary number system for another two weeks - conversion, addition, subtraction, multiplication, floating points, etc. Finally, after all that, we started programming in GW-Basic.

All that's changed now. After I left school, they changed the syllabus. CompSci was changed to Computers, and moved down to the primary section. Students started with paint brush.

Jumping forward many years, in my last year of my Master's, I took part in an inter collegiate computer quiz. The finalists were from the best engineering colleges in Mumbai. They were all stumped on one question - "Who wrote the art of computer programming". Some thought it was a movie!! Suffice it to say, my team of two won that quiz through the sheer ineptness of the competition.

These were all good students, from good colleges, studying computer engineering. I'd think that they'd have read Knuth sometime during those four years, but most hadn't even heard of him.

I now teach several courses, and also give lectures for the ACM. I always make it a point to throw in a bit of history into all my lectures. While talking about grep and sed, I mention how they grew out of ed, and why parens have to be escaped in regexes.

The problem seems to be that the people who set the course don't care about history, and the students who study only care about getting out, so what's past is lost.


SkR1pT K1dd13Z (5, Insightful)

StaticEngine (135635) | about 13 years ago | (#2440336)

I can't say I'm surprised that the "hacker youth" is disconnected with the past. Who doesn't know teens like this? In this consumer-oriented society, the focus is on having and bragging about it, not on doing or knowing.

Hell, when I was that age, I used to read computer magazines in class, and a girl who sat next to me once asked "why I read those things?" Since she was hot and I was shocked that she was actually speaking to me, I answered the not quite accurate "it tells me how to fix them," to which she replied, "why don't you just take it to the shop?" Likewise, several months ago, I was talking with a younger cousin about the video game industry (where I'm currently working), and we were discussing what makes games good. His entire list of quality games was less than a year old, and when I mentioned Pac Man and the Infocom games, he had only the vaguest clue that such things once existed. Furthermore, his interests were more in how to get rich writing games rather than how a programmer actually writes good AI routines, or an artist animates characters realisticaly.

The point is, there will always be a large element of society, at any age, which is both ignorant and uninterested in the history of anything. Most of these people will remain in the realm of Average Consumer, while the inquisitive will go forth, research the past, and build the future. The danger comes from the past-less few who simply abuse the tools that are available to them, or arguably worse, become the leaders who direct the doers of society, with little grip on why the wheels of progress turn a certain way, and no concern for how they're powered to enable to future. Because when the percieved joy is in reaching the destination, rather than within the journey itself, it tends to be one hell of a bumpy ride that doesn't exactly pave a smooth road for those who follow.

Re:SkR1pT K1dd13Z (2)

Dolly_Llama (267016) | about 13 years ago | (#2440448)

I used to read computer magazines in class, and a girl who sat next to me once asked "why I read those things?"

Note to self, Reading Wired and 2600 does NOT impress the babes (or really anyone else). Maybe I should take the Tao of Steve approach.

Developers.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440339)

Developers, developers, developers, developers, developers!

cluelessness on the "this" link (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440350)

"He used a Captain Crunch whistle to generate a 2600 kilohertz tone to get free phone calls..."

2,600,000 Hz, that's a pretty high pitch!

Re:cluelessness on the "this" link (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440434)

haha, the author of that piece may be a computing god, but he's still a science kiddie.

Charles Baggage - father of the suitcase (2, Funny)

jweatherley (457715) | about 13 years ago | (#2440352)

Looks like a rogue spell checker got at the system toolbox article:

While still a young boy, Baggage was concerned with questions of "how" over those of "why.".

Think about it (1)

CropCircles (527619) | about 13 years ago | (#2440357)

Quote for article:

The funny thing is that the expression of this "disorder" can be fingered early in life. One can watch for the early warning signs. Children that take apart watches or have a penchant for building elaborate structures from blocks may just be engineers in their pupae stage. By all accounts, Babbage definitely was afflicted by the time of his boyhood. His tinkering with things, his dismantling of gadgets, and his inquisitiveness as to how things worked are all sure signs. While the draw of engineering can be sublimated if caught early and treated with care,

Maybe, ti just might be that the hackers and crackers are just not "evil" as they are made out. Instead of opening watches and playing with blocks they toy around with computers. I say this because recently there was news about a kid being prisoned and I cannot help but wonder at the wasted [] potential [] .

Re:Think about it (5, Insightful)

dangermouse (2242) | about 13 years ago | (#2440385)

Maybe, ti just might be that the hackers and crackers are just not "evil" as they are made out. Instead of opening watches and playing with blocks they toy around with computers.

This rather doofy rationale has been expounded before. The counterargument, of course, is that if kids tinker with locks it's one thing... when they tinker with the locks on other peoples' buildings and go walking around inside, it's another entirely.

You don't get to "tinker" with other people's stuff. How anyone could think one should be granted that right because one is "curious", I'll never understand.

Re:Think about it (1)

Djaak (59417) | about 13 years ago | (#2440625)

Maybe, ti just might be that the hackers and crackers are just not "evil" as they are made out.

I think the theory outlined in this 1985 paper [] about "hackers" (ok, crackers) ethics is still valid : these are mostly young teenagers whose idea of what's wrong and what's right isn't better or worse than that of most kids this age. The author argues that kids breaking into a computer system are at the same level of moral developement as other kids hot-wiring a car for a joyride. Both are just immature vandals, but the thing is that damage caused by computer vandalism is usually much worse.

Re:Think about it (1)

Steve Cox (207680) | about 13 years ago | (#2440631)

So maybe we should give the script kiddes some watches/lego to play with.


Re:Think about it (2)

dgroskind (198819) | about 13 years ago | (#2440731)

...the hackers and crackers are just not "evil" as they are made out.

Or at least, they aren't beyond redemption. The infamous Captain Crunch [] seems to have turned his life around and is now a productive member of society.

But evil is not the issue. The law punishes people for what they do, not who they are. Just as they should not be punished for being evil, they should not be spared punishment because they are fundamentally decent.

Many of us have more sympathy for hackers than other types of juvenile delinquents because we recognize some of the same impulses in ourselves. To the extent we advocate mercy for hackers we are also asking for mercy for ourselves. We probably shouldn't let ourselves off the hook so easily either.

Quote by Ken Thompson: (5, Informative)

Futurepower(tm) (228467) | about 13 years ago | (#2440360)

The quote by Ken Thompson at the bottom of the article referenced in the Slashdot story is from a very interesting speech, Reflections on Trusting Trust [] .

Here is the quote:

"I have watched kids testifying before Congress. It is clear that they are completely unaware of the seriousness of their acts. There is obviously a cultural gap. The act of breaking into a computer system has to have the same social stigma as breaking into a neighbor's house. It should not matter that the neighbor's door is unlocked. The press must learn that misguided use of a computer is no more amazing than drunk driving of an automobile."

What should be the Response to Violence? []

Isaac Newton or Cave Man (2, Insightful)

shredds (241412) | about 13 years ago | (#2440361)

Someone important in British Literature once said, "If I appear so tall, it is because I stand on the shoulders of Giants." (If you can remember who that was, you've got mad skills).
I always think its important to learn about one's roots, but I don't think its as important as understanding our contemporaries.
Sure, Babbage was revolutionary and laid a big foundation for where we are today. But so did all of the people who laid foundations for him; and the people who laid foundations for those people. Without Faraday computers wouldn't exist. Without Newton computers wouldn't exist. Without Aristotle, etc. etc.
Does scrutinizing Aristotle (or Babbage for that matter) propel our computer knowledge farther than if we spent more time studying Kevin Mitnick or Bill Gates [even those who despise him must agree he changed the computing world, for better or worse is not the question]. Does knowing about the history of the punch card help us as much as understanding the status of quantum computing?
The whole premise of computer science is to abstract layers upon layers so the guy who takes over can do more without having to understand fully the layers below him. Knowing about those layers is good, but do you need to know about how capacitors charge in order to write a solid C code?
Where does one draw the line between useful information and cool things to talk about at a party?

Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (0)

mammux (232575) | about 13 years ago | (#2440364)

Bill Gates changed the world of computing? I always considered him more of a distributor than a developer.


Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (2)

Pogue Mahone (265053) | about 13 years ago | (#2440491)

Bill Gates changed the world of computing?

Yeah, it was going just fine till he came along ... ;-)

Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (2)

rm-r (115254) | about 13 years ago | (#2440377)

I'm pretty certain that quote was Newton himself after being refered to as a maths great or something

Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440387)

Yes, it's attributed to Newton.

Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (2, Interesting)

shredds (241412) | about 13 years ago | (#2440389)

Actually...Newton had a very similar quote. I believe he said that if he "sees further" it is because he is standing on the shoulders of giants. Coleridge had a very simlilar quote as well. I believe it is someone from British Literature (maybe John Donne or Jonathan Swift) remembering who said the quote really all that important? (which comes back to my original point).

Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (3, Informative)

poemofatic (322501) | about 13 years ago | (#2440416)

I think the context of that quote was that Hooke objected to Newton not giving him proper credit for "Hooke's Law" --that the restoring force of a spring is proportional to its displacement from equilibrium. Newton then did some research and found about 20 other guys who also "discovered" this rather obvious observation, and cited all of them, placing Hooke's name last on the list. Then he fired off this quote. So the real message is more of a flame of Hooke, yet most people consider it some great admission of humility.

Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (1)

jeremyp (130771) | about 13 years ago | (#2440409)

Newton said "If I have seen further it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants". Taken out of context it seems like a noble thing to say, but it was actually intended as an insult to Robert Hooke his contemporary and hated rival, who was very short and by all accounts sensitive about the fact.

Re:Isaac Newton or Cave Man (3, Informative)

pmc (40532) | about 13 years ago | (#2440642)

Newton said "If I have seen further it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants". Taken out of context it seems like a noble thing to say, but it was actually intended as an insult to Robert Hooke his contemporary and hated rival, who was very short and by all accounts sensitive about the fact.

Nope - this is (probably) a fallacy. See this [] for the details.

jeez (2, Interesting)

TheMMaster (527904) | about 13 years ago | (#2440363)

What I find most disturbing is not that these kids don't know everything about computer history but that they also don't seem to care... I must admit that I didn't know all the people mentioned in the story on binary but I looked up the bios if those people...
This is happening all around us and not only in computer history, how many kids care about history at all??? How many kids know stuff about the first world war, Newton and the old philosophers like Aristoteles ???

I must say this does worry me...

Re:jeez (2)

dangermouse (2242) | about 13 years ago | (#2440374)

You wanna see something really scary? Ask some teenagers to name all of the Beatles.

And I'm only 22.

Re:jeez (2)

Pogue Mahone (265053) | about 13 years ago | (#2440479)

You can tell you've been in front of the screen too long when ...

"... I looked up the bios if[sic] those people..."

But the average person doesn't have a BIOS ...

Oh, sorry, biographies

Let me get this straight... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440380)

The worst terrorist attack in recorded history occurred last month, and now we're involved in a WAR and you people have the gall to be discussing Charles Babbage???? My *god*, people, GET SOME PRIORITIES!

The bodies of the thousands of innocent civilians who died (and will die) in these unprecedented events could give a good god damn about Charles Babbage or your silly geek computing history site, your childish Lego models, your nerf toy guns and whining about the lack of a "fun" workplace, your Everquest/Diablo/D&D fixation, the latest Cowboy Bebop rerun, or any of the other ways you are "getting on with your life" (here's a hint: watching Cowboy Bebop in your jammies and eating a bowl of Shreddies is *not* "getting on with your life"). The souls of the victims are watching in horror as you people squander your finite, precious time on this earth playing video games!

You people disgust me!

what else can I say...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440454)

Hey, hacked any gibsons lately?

And another thing... (4, Interesting)

Pogue Mahone (265053) | about 13 years ago | (#2440459)

... that's not so widely known about Charles Babbage is his cryptanalysis expertise. It was he who first cracked the Vigenere polyalphabetic substitution cipher (previously considered to be uncrackable).

For some reason he didn't publish his results. Some believe that he was told not to by the British government, so that they could use his discovery during the Crimean war. Babbage's work on this subject was discovered in his notebooks after his death.

Reason he'd didn't publish... (1)

FirstNoel (113932) | about 13 years ago | (#2440735)

Maybe he had psychi powers and could see the DMCA, and decided that he didn't want to risk being arrested in the US.

Sean D

knowing historical computing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440462)

I've been "into" computers for a fairly long time (for me, I'm 22). Ironically enough, what spawned my interest into the history of computers was a typing program for DOS (Typing Tutor, I think) on our old IBM XT clone back in the mid - late 80's. The practice typing text involved the history of computing, starting with Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (as I recall it also mentioned programmable looms in the middle east as possibly being the first computers).

I've done some reading since (I'm proud to say I could identify all the names in the binaryfreedom article) and I'm presently reading "Hackers" by Steven Levy (yeah, I know, it's been out for a while but I haven't gotten around to it until now).

I find it incredible when I look at people even at work - I work at a tech service company - who have no grasp of computing history. Many of these people are nice people, and some of them quite smart, but many still can't get past their tech college "education". Some of them know what Unix is, but look at me like I'm either crazy or a guru because I've set up Linux and *bsd a few times. If I said "who is ken thompson" or "what is Multics" they wouldn't have a clue. Same can be said with any name other than Bill Gates. It's really quite sad.

I find such ignorance (willful or otherwise) impacts my co-workers' abilities to come up with innovative solutions. For example, I have found it extremely useful to understand the "Unix way" of doing things when approaching a problem, even though we run and support mostly Win32.

As someone once said, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." (or words to that effect).


One 2600 meeting does not a sample make. (4, Interesting)

mindpixel (154865) | about 13 years ago | (#2440482)

My advice is to make the effort and go to H2K2 and get a real sample. I think you will find like I did when I spoke at H2K, that the majority are well informed about our history.

Like any culture, our culture needs to be taught! Only so many can have had first hand experience and there are less of us each day. Yet, each day, there are more just coming into interest who need to be taught. If you find such a teacherless group of people interested in computers, you should take it upon yourself to teach who we are.

Show people the first computer you ever programmed [] . Show them the games you played and wrote [] . Show them how to say "Hello World!" directly with a Turing Machine or in Java and everything between [] .

Tell them about Norbert Wiener and Marie Ampere. Warren McCulloch, J.C.R. Licklider, John von Neumann and Vannevar Bush. Alan Turing, Claude Shannon and David Levy (yes Ken Thompson too and Belle). Scott Adams(all three) and Stanislaw Lem. Joeseph Weizenbaum and Eliza, Alaxander Bain and Donald Hebb. Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney and Larry Bryan. Alan Kay and Steve Russell. David Gottieb, Joel Hochberg and Al Arcorn. Thomas Hobbes and Levithan. Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin and Thomas Huxley. Aristotle and Lucretius. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Charles Babbage and Blaise Pascal. B. F. Skinner and Wilhelm Wundt. Robert Tinney and Peter Max. J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky. Doug Lenat, Push Singh and myself.

We will always need more teachers who know how to both show and to tell!

CS and History... (5, Interesting)

glebite (206150) | about 13 years ago | (#2440484)

I interview a lot of co-op students for job placements in the company that I work for now, and for large company in the past. Sometimes, I get some really cocky student who comes in with a smug attitude that he knows it all.

Sure enough, he can answer the technical questions flawlessly just as if he had read it from a textbook. He could show ingenuity for coming up with solutions on the fly as well... And usually when they get that look in their eye: "I know you want to hire me - make me a REALLY good offer, and I might consider working for you." I then ask the killer question:

"Who is Charles Babbage?"

The blank look on their face is priceless. It's a simple curveball. I've received answers ranging from: "I'm not sure - wasn't he featured in PC Magazine last month?" to "Oh - he's the founder of IBM." and "I... I... Don't know..."

I then answer the question with a short history lesson. They of course often recall it - yes, but didn't think that it was important.

I'm amazed at how much computing history has been forgotten from introductory courses in High School. There was an incredible amount of effort and ingenuity required to get us to the place we are today: information available within seconds, toys to entertain, tools to teach and make life easier (mine is easier now because of them), communication barriers broken down, etc... It's caused other problems too, but man - what doesn't. I'll take the benefits over the problems any day.

Hanging up in my office is a picture of Charles Babbage, and one of Ada.

"Who is Grace Hopper?" is my backup question.


Damn kids these days... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440485)

Damn kids these days don't know shit. Oughta whip 'em all, what with their micro-computers and their video cassette recorders and whatnot. I tell ya...

What's Babbage ? (1)

Djaak (59417) | about 13 years ago | (#2440548)

Hey, me I'm not like these 2600 7am3rz, I know what Babbage is : it's a programming language [] . Kidz these days don't even know about the pioneering concept of "artificial stupidity". How sad.

well a reason to be proud (2)

RestiffBard (110729) | about 13 years ago | (#2440620)

seeing as there have been many posts claiming ignorance of who some of those people are (congrats for being mature enough to admit it) I have to say I'm damn proud that I know who all of thema re and I've only been using computers since i was 14. (which by /. standards is still considered a newbie in some circles. oh I'm 24 now.

History is bunk (2, Flamebait)

dgroskind (198819) | about 13 years ago | (#2440627)

I'm dubious about the idea that knowing the history of computer science helps you be a better programmer. I've known several excellent programmers whose knowledge of computer science was limited to the tools of their trade and the underlying theory. My own knowledge of the history of my profession hasn't made learning OOP any easier.

One should have a broader interest in the world than simply making a living but there are many places to go beside the history of computer science. One could argue that, given limited time, one should look outside one's profession rather than inside it for a broader perspective.

Having said that, some of life's lesson can seem more acute when seen in the context of familiar problems. For instance, this example from Babbage's life [] :

Babbage's private income perhaps deprived him of the drive that would have whipped his work into shape. Every time he came up against a problem with the design of his various engines, his impulse was to turn away and start again. Instead of breaking through the pain barrier, he finished his 80-year life with a lot of drawings and not a prototype in sight.

Many of us who've found a comfortable life in programming struggle with that problem every day.

admiral grace hopper (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 13 years ago | (#2440638)

Of course I know who Little Admiral Grace Hopper Inventor of COBOL Banana was.

Don't forget the cowcatcher (1)

Leimy (6717) | about 13 years ago | (#2440644)

Actually Charles Babbage invented other things besides the analytical engine and computing machings.

That angular pointy looking wedge on the front side of old style steam locomitives was called a cowcatcher and was used to remove *ahem* debris from train tracks so the trains could keep moving. Live or dead cows could be pushed off the tracks... What an interesting device! :)

Ada Lovelace (1, Offtopic)

SomethingOrOther (521702) | about 13 years ago | (#2440666)

Of course the 13yr old kids hadn't heard of Babbage.
But they all know Ada [] was a babe.

Right? :-)

Charles Babbage. (1)

13Echo (209846) | about 13 years ago | (#2440737)

Wasn't he the founder of that overpriced software/Pokemon store? Oh, wait... Nevermind.
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