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The Evolution of Computers Prior to the 1950's

By: plapman , 7:31 PM GMT on August 10, 2012

The earliest known mechanical method of using a machine to do mathematics was the abacus. It replaced the use of fingers and toes which had a limited range.
The earliest written mention of the Abacus was in 2nd century BC in China.

Photo courtesy of Computer history.org
I'd sure get mixed up moving those sliding pieces of hardwood around.
As strange as it seems the Abacus can still be purchased today.
The next big step in computing came in the 1600's when John Napier discovered logarithms and John Bissaker created the slide rule which it could multiply and divide and remained in use until the 1970's.Gosh I still have one of those.strong>My SlideRule

The first really mechanical calculator was invented in 1642 by Blaise Pascal, a French mathematician, uasing gears. This machine was could perform addition, subtraction, multiply and divide. It life was short lived due to the fact that it could only be rmbers as well it as it could only be repaired by the inventor and was expensive. These drawbacks gave it a very short lifetime. The Pascaline was so short lived that I can't even find a picture of it on the web.
Things slid along smoothly until 1812 when Charles p. Babbage , the father of computers, while doing long tedious calculations realized that many times the same calculations were repeated over and over again like a machine.
Using this discovery he built a steam powered difference engine which was steam powered. Can you imagine a steam powered machine sitting on your desktop. The YouTube video below explains how it worked and shows it in action.

In the 1840's Augusta Ada, the first programmer suggested that a binary system be used to do calculations instead of the decimal system.
In the 1850's using Ada's binary system invented Boolean logic which meant that something was either true or false. This system is still in used in modern computers.
in 1890, Herman Hollerith, the founder of IBM, used a punch card system where there was either a hole or not to compile the 1890 census results. I remember using a punch car system to calculate survey results we did in the 1970's on Lake Winnipeg erosion. Were we ever behind the times.
With the invention of the vacuum tube by in 1906 by Lee De Forrest the computer evolution went from mechanical to electronic and things really started to speed up.
In 1939 John V. Atanasoff working with Clifford Berry built the first electronic digital computer called the ABC after the inventors.
The ABC Computer from Computer History.org

In 1941 Konrad Zuse of Germany built the first programmable computer using the binary system as suggested by Augusta Ada in the 1840's.
The original Z3 computer was destroyed by Allied bombing during the second world war but a replica is on display at Deutsches a museum in Berlin.
The Z3 replica from the museum.

I'll continue this later and try to bring it up to date.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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28. unclemush
8:34 AM GMT on September 01, 2012
Hi Tony.I haven't forgotten you!I just see summer slowly leaving.I want to get out and enjoy it while I can!:)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
27. Ylee
9:29 PM GMT on August 31, 2012
Hi, Tony!
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10:50 AM GMT on August 30, 2012
Mornin from the Bermuda of the Maritimes, a grand fall like one it is.

Ginny and Maurice off to NFLD for a look around, could be an adventure. Ginny's progressed to the degree she has little idea of her surroundings, physically looks great, if you not aware of her condition no way of knowing when you come in contact. Maurice having serious health issues, limited mobility as a result.

Season change is subtle, but is underway, daylight longer making an appearance and darkness coming much earliar. Have a good one.

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
2:53 PM GMT on August 27, 2012
Morning Tony appreciate the harvest update, indeed if the fall preparation completed in some locations must be a harvest season for the record books.

Hazel's sister well into her 100th year, spoke with her a few weeks ago, appeared to have things going well for her. When the decline started it moved along very fast. Yes indeed longevity for most members of the family, combined with good quality of life for most of the time is remarkable with brothers and sisters.

Still great weather, a slight hint the season will soon be changing, but only slight.

Have a good one.

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24. Alleyoops
12:50 PM GMT on August 27, 2012
Good morning Tony, just checking to see how the Queen is feeling this morning. Rain for us here today so no real complaints as far as weather goes. Even the temps have cooled to the nice 70s again even if humidity is at l00%. Been out already between rains to take the trash to the road.

Have a great day dear one. I am just going to kick back and putter around here.
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23. Alleyoops
3:01 PM GMT on August 26, 2012
Good morning Tony, just checking in and see the car is gone again. Knowing that you can't drive, wondering why the Queen would be out of bed and out and about. Sorry to hear she is not feeling very well. Rest is what she needs and its your turn to spoil her why she recuperates. Puffers help but coughing up that crud is the worse.

Hope you have a nice quiet day to just sit back.
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12:41 PM GMT on August 26, 2012
Morning Tony, see you folks have had some weather to contend with. Haven't heard anything about the harvest for a few weeks, didn't look good in many areas due to drought or hail.
When you decide to change format you do just that, interesting to say the least.
Good to know you are still upright.

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21. Ylee
9:21 AM GMT on August 26, 2012
Hi, Tony! Just wondering how you, the Queen, and Abbey are getting along!
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20. Bogon
2:48 PM GMT on August 25, 2012
Shore, there is a short but complimentary article dedicated to Ada Lovelace at the on-line Computer History Museum.
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19. Bogon
2:55 PM GMT on August 24, 2012
Moore's law has survived predictions such as the one in comment 12 before. Now that there is a large computer industry and culture, which has a vested interest in keeping Moore's law going, (so far) research and development manage to stay ahead of physical limitations.

The first major challenge was imposed by the wavelength of light used for photolithography. When I was working at Motorola, a typical feature on an integrated circuit had a width of about a micron. You could view it through an ordinary microscope. That was already approaching the limits of optical resolution. Since that time photomask production moved to ultraviolet or electron beam lithography, both of which have shorter wavelengths than visible light.

As features sizes decrease, the electric fields between features increase. That leads to another limitation: insulator breakdown. Semiconductor manufacturers had to develop new processes to better insulate signal pathways. New chips operate at lower voltages than the old TTL circuits I knew (once upon a time). That helps to reduce electric field strength.

The ultimate limitation may be heat. Each time you flip a bit, some heat must be dissipated. The central processing unit of a modern personal computer consists of a large flat chip with a heat sink and fan bolted onto it. It's not uncommon for the CPU to be a hundred watt part. That is starting to change, particularly in mobile applications such as netbooks and smart phones. Even lithium batteries will not run a hundred watt machine for long. New well-designed CPUs dissipate twenty watts or less. It helps that the voltage is lower now. The fact that feature sizes continue to shrink makes it harder to extract heat from the circuit. Heat production per unit volume goes up.

The salvation of Moore's law is likely to be quantum computing. The quantum world obeys a different set of laws than the macroscopic world of classical physics. Concepts such as heat and voltage will no longer apply in the same way. The trick will be in manufacturing. They're still working on that one.
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18. Alleyoops
1:25 PM GMT on August 24, 2012
Good morning Tony. Looks like the heat is returning to SW Ontario now too. Cooler nights but temps still into the mid to high 80s. Going to be a hot wknd. Just think, September is almost here. Soon the big old Harvest Moon will shine and with it, the smell of woodsmoke, colorful leaves under foot and the first taste of frost. Oh I am so looking forward to it all. Not the snow of course, but the cooler temps.

Anyway have a great day....gotta go and get something to drink so I can take these blasted pills. Jeeze I have turned into a real pharmacy...getting old SUCKS big time....LOL
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17. shoreacres
12:54 PM GMT on August 22, 2012
Hi, Tony - hope all's well! I was thinking of you last night. I had a conversation with a fellow who teaches some sort of engineering at a local college. He said he still makes such everyone who comes through his classes knows how to use a slide rule! That's pretty amazing, but also very practical.

Have things cooled down for you a bit? Your health ok? Is Abbey happy? I've been a bit MIA, but I sure was glad to see you stop by my place.
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16. shoreacres
11:55 AM GMT on August 17, 2012
Loved the post. Some people don't realize that Augusta Ada also was the Countess of Lovelace, and that she's often known today as Ada Lovelace. She was the only legitimate child of the poet, Lord Byron, and quite a woman.

She actually has her "day" every year when people celebrate her. I think she has a "society", too. I'll have to double check and see when that day is, and find a photo of her.
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15. Ylee
10:08 PM GMT on August 16, 2012
Alley, you ARE talking about Tony, LOL! Mischief is his middle name! :)
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14. Alleyoops
8:56 AM GMT on August 16, 2012
Good morning Tony, great to see what folks are posting here. Hope you are enjoying visiting with your daughter and are not getting into too much mischief.

Will be starting a new blog tomorrow. Will be interesting stuff. Again it's a WWII theme.

Have a great Thursday dear ones.
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13. GardenGrrl
5:42 PM GMT on August 15, 2012
It's amazing that my phone has more computing power than a room full of 1970's computers.
What comes next?
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12. Patrap
4:22 PM GMT on August 15, 2012
The Collapse of Moore’s Law: Physicist Says It’s Already Happening

By MATT PECKHAM | @mattpeckham | May 1, 2012

Moore’s Law is finally breaking down, according to theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. He’s talking about the so-called law that says the number of transistors that can be fit on a computer chip will double every two years, resulting in periodic increases in computing power.

According to Kaku:

…in about ten years or so, we will see the collapse of Moore’s Law. In fact, already, already we see a slowing down of Moore’s Law. Computer power simply cannot maintain its rapid exponential rise using standard silicon technology. Intel Corporation has admitted this.
It’s true. At the International Supercomputing Conference 2011 last June, Intel architecture group VP Kirk Skaugen said something about Moore’s Law not being sufficient, by itself, for the company to ramp up to exascale performance by 2018. But he went on to tout Intel’s tri-gate technology (the company’s so-called “3D” processors) as the solution, which Skaugen claimed translates to “no more end of life for Moore’s Law.”

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11. unclemush
4:12 PM GMT on August 15, 2012
Hi Tony.Can't blame you for liking the fishing picture!I see Aub is putting interesting stuff on your blog!:)
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10. auburn (Mod)
4:58 PM GMT on August 14, 2012
Had one of these also that I got at a yard sale..hahaha
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9. auburn (Mod)
4:54 PM GMT on August 14, 2012

this I think was my first computer..I got it as a teen/kid at (of all places)the goodwill store(I suppose someone got it and never was able to put it all together)it wasn't much more that a calculator to be honest..I cut grass and sold coke bottles for months to get the 150 bucks the Goodwill wanted for this thing(and no one even knew if all the parts were with the kit)I did finally get it all put together but it never was really any use to me because I had no clue what to do with it..still..that kit was the reason I got into electronics I think..
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8. unclemush
4:40 PM GMT on August 14, 2012
Hi Tony.You posted on my new blog.The last couple of times It was on the old one.LOL :)
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7. Alleyoops
6:12 PM GMT on August 13, 2012
Hey Tony, time for a wee break from tidying up the basement. Good news about your wayward daughter coming home for a visit from Nfld....LOL Nice to have them home when you can. Lots of fun to be had by all.

Have a great day. Break is over now....LOL
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6. auburn (Mod)
4:59 PM GMT on August 13, 2012
thanks for stopping by the Doghouse!!!
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5. Alleyoops
3:47 PM GMT on August 11, 2012
Good morning TONY. Have a great day dear ones.
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4. Ylee
7:00 AM GMT on August 11, 2012
Hi, Tony! Great blog! I went to computerhistory.org; I didn't know they slide rules in a dial shape! I could spend a lot of time there! :)
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3. Alleyoops
12:21 AM GMT on August 11, 2012
Oh wow Tony. Love your blog. This stuff is real interesting. Good Job!!!

Rained here most of the day. Finally starting to dry out after 2 full days of nice slow rains.

Have a wonderful day dear one. Looking forward to the rest on this....
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2. auburn (Mod)
9:08 PM GMT on August 10, 2012
nice blog..I enjoy this type stuff..
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. unclemush
8:48 PM GMT on August 10, 2012
Hi Tony.Looks like you figured out how to post videos.Interesting blog.People these days think they invented everything.Oh bye the way First!:)
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About plapman

Retired and loving it. If I'd have known about retirement befor I started my 40 year career with the government of Manitoba I'd have retired first. :)Ah

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