The folks over at Cnet’s News.com tech website have a very interesting article up about Charles Babbage, the man largely responsible for coming up with the concept for what we now know as a computer. Babbage never did manage to build any of the “Difference Engines”, as he called them, within his own lifetime and historians have largely argued that it wouldn’t have worked anyway. The precision machining requirements such a device would have imposed were supposedly beyond the reach of the Victorian manufacturers of the mid-1800’s.
However, Doron Swade, author of The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the Quest to Build the First Computer, has proven historians were wrong. In the last third of his book he describes his quest to complete one of Babbage’s many designs using the same technology to make the machine as what Babbage would have had available to him in the 1800s. Not only does the finished machine work, it works very well. The News.com article makes for a very informative read and illustrates how quite often the best ideas are never realized not because they wouldn’t work, but because of simple human short-sightedness.