(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Analytical Engine

“We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”*…

Lee Wilkins on the interconnected development of digital and textile technology…

I’ve always been fascinated with the co-evolution of computation and textiles. Some of the first industrialized machines produced elaborate textiles on a mass scale, the most famous example of which is the jacquard loom. It used punch cards to create complex designs programmatically, similar to the computer punch cards that were used until the 1970s. But craft work and computation have many parallel processes. The process of pulling wires is similar to the way yarn is made, and silkscreening is common in both fabric and printed circuit board production. Another of my favorite examples is rubylith, a light-blocking film used to prepare silkscreens for fabric printing and to imprint designs on integrated circuits.

Of course, textiles and computation have diverged on their evolutionary paths, but I love finding the places where they do converge – or inventing them myself. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a gigantic Tajima digital embroidery machine [see above]. This room-sized machine, affectionately referred to as The Spider Queen by the technician, loudly sews hundreds of stitches per minute – something that would take me months to make by hand. I’m using it to make large soft speaker coils by laying conductive fibers on a thick woven substrate. I’m trying to recreate functional coils – for use as radios, speakers, inductive power, and motors – in textile form. Given the shared history, I can imagine a parallel universe where embroidery is considered high-tech and computers a crafty hobby…

Notes, in @the_prepared.

Ada Lovelace, programmer of the Analytical Engine, which was designed and built by her partner Charles Babbage


As we investigate intertwining, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that Frederick Banting and Charles Best announced their discovery of insulin the prior year (with James Collip). The co-inventors sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for a mere $1. They wanted everyone who needed their medication to be able to afford it.

Today, Banting and his colleagues would be spinning in their graves: their drug, one on which many of the 30 million Americans with diabetes rely, has become the poster child for pharmaceutical price gouging.

The cost of the four most popular types of insulin has tripled over the past decade, and the out-of-pocket prescription costs patients now face have doubled. By 2016, the average price per month rose to $450 — and costs continue to rise, so much so that as many as one in four people with diabetes are now skimping on or skipping lifesaving doses

Best (left) and Bantling with with one of the diabetic dogs used in their experiments with insulin


“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”*…




We’re living through a real-time natural experiment on a global scale. The differential performance of countries, cities and regions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic is a live test of the effectiveness, capacity and legitimacy of governments, leaders and social contracts.

The progression of the initial outbreak in different countries followed three main patterns. Countries like Singapore and Taiwan represented Pattern A, where (despite many connections to the original source of the outbreak in China) vigilant government action effectively cut off community transmission, keeping total cases and deaths low. China and South Korea represented Pattern B: an initial uncontrolled outbreak followed by draconian government interventions that succeeded in getting at least the first wave of the outbreak under control.

Pattern C is represented by countries like Italy and Iran, where waiting too long to lock down populations led to a short-term exponential growth of new cases that overwhelmed the healthcare system and resulted in a large number of deaths. In the United States, the lack of effective and universally applied social isolation mechanisms, as well as a fragmented healthcare system and a significant delay in rolling out mass virus testing, led to a replication of Pattern C, at least in densely populated places like New York City and Chicago.

Despite the Chinese and Americans blaming each other and crediting their own political system for successful responses, the course of the virus didn’t score easy political points on either side of the new Cold War. Regime type isn’t correlated with outcomes. Authoritarian and democratic countries are included in each of the three patterns of responses: authoritarian China and democratic South Korea had effective responses to a dramatic breakout; authoritarian Singapore and democratic Taiwan both managed to quarantine and contain the virus; authoritarian Iran and democratic Italy both experienced catastrophe.

It’s generally a mistake to make long-term forecasts in the midst of a hurricane, but some outlines of lasting shifts are emerging. First, a government or society’s capacity for technical competence in executing plans matters more than ideology or structure. The most effective arrangements for dealing with the pandemic have been found in countries that combine a participatory public culture of information sharing with operational experts competently executing decisions. Second, hyper-individualist views of privacy and other forms of risk are likely to be submerged as countries move to restrict personal freedoms and use personal data to manage public and aggregated social risks. Third, countries that are able to successfully take a longer view of planning and risk management will be at a significant advantage…

From Steve Weber and @nils_gilman, an argument for the importance of operational expertise, plans for the long-term, and the socialization of some risks: “The Long Shadow Of The Future.”

* Dwight D. Eisenhower


As we make ourselves ready, we might recall that it was on this date in 1822 that Charles Babbage [see almanac entry here] proposes a Difference Engine in a paper to the Royal Astronomical Society (which he’d helped found two years earlier).

In Babbage’s time, printed mathematical tables were calculated by human computers… in other words, by hand.  They were central to navigation, science, and engineering, as well as mathematics– but mistakes occurred, both in transcription and in calculation.  Babbage determined to mechanize the process and to reduce– indeed, to eliminate– errors.  His Difference Engine was intended as precisely that sort of mechanical calculator (in this instance, to compute values of polynomial functions).

In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.


A portion of the difference engine




“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”*…



Security, transportation, energy, personal “stuff”– the 2018 staff of Popular Mechanics, asked leading engineers and futurists for their visions of future cities, and built a handbook to navigate this new world: “The World of 2045.”

* William Gibson (in The Economist, December 4, 2003)


As we take the long view, we might spare a thought for Charles Babbage; he died on this date in 1871. A mathematician, philosopher, inventor, and mechanical engineer, Babbage is best remembered for originating the concept of a programmable computer. Anxious to eliminate inaccuracies in mathematical tables, he first built a small calculating machine able to compute squares.  He then produced prototypes of portions of a larger Difference Engine. (Georg and Edvard Schuetz later constructed the first working devices to the same design, and found them successful in limited applications.)  In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

Babbage’s other inventions include the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, the standard railroad gauge, uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals, and the heliograph opthalmoscope.  A true hacker, he was also passionate about cyphers and lock-picking.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

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