Since the beginning of recorded history (approximately 5000 years ago)
and even before that, people have needed to do calculatons. Many of the
calculations we do in our daily lives today are the same ones that the early hunters and farmers had to do to stay alive. We wonder how many cups of rice it will take to feed 7 people. Do we have enough or do we need to go to the store. They wondered how many animals they had to kill to make it through the winter and how many they should use each day to get through until the next hunting season. Computation, in many forms, is fundamental to human existence. Let's talk about the ingenious mechanical aids that people of all times have invented to make these essential calculations.

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

Abacus (2400 BCE) – Like a calculator, but uses beads that slide back and forth to get the answer. You might see them in use today in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

Illustrate the origin of Abacus:

A long long time ago, a man named Lishou was responsible for keeping track of things for his village. As the number of things changed, he had a hard time calculating them. Lishou began mixing up the livestock population with the weight of the harvested grains. “We have 30 sheep. Last month, we received 8 lambs. Last week we ate 2 lambs. This week, 3 sheep died, but we received 5 more sheep from the neighboring village. Oh, I am confused. “ He said.

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1650 CE – Slide Rule – A mechanical device, shaped like a ruler with parts that slide back and forth. It can do multiplication, division, square roots and many other complex mathematical operations. The slide rule was in wide use for 300 years, its use ending in the 1970’s when electronic calculators were perfected.

Illustrate this situation: An abacus is difficult to learn and use. Multiplication and division are very cumbersome, unless you are highly skilled.

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1642 – Mechanical Adding Machines – They could do addition and subtraction only and were the size of a large toaster.

Illustrate this problem: “It takes so long to total the population of our country. I wish a machine could do it by itself.”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1855 – The Babbage Difference Engine – Designed by Charles Babbage to do virtually all mathematical operations. It was not actually built until 2001 and was the size of two big refrigerators.

Illustrate this: Let’s look at the problem of designing a water draining system for a city. To drain properly, the pipe must drop 4” every 8’. How deep will the pipe be a mile away?

(answer: 1 mile = 5280’ 5280/80 = 66. 66 * 4” = 264, 264/12 =~ 22’. The pipe will be 22’ deep.)

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1890 – Hollerith Census Tabulator – A census is when all the people in a nation are counted. After the people are counted, the huge numbers must be added and analyzed. An early computer, perhaps the first real computer, was used to assist in this task.

Illustrate this problem: “How can I calculate all the people in a nation, add them up, and analyze them?” (what is the sample used to analyze this country’s population?)

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1922 - Norden Bombsight – This device provided a very practical application for an early computer, called an “analog” computer. It was invented by Carl Norden. Today’s computers are called “digital” computers because they use 1’s and 0’s. Norden Bombsight helps bomber aircrafts aim when dropping a bomb directly on the target in war. The machine takes into account the speed of wind and other factors.

Problem to illustrate: An bird spots an annoying pig dancing ugly in the barn. It stops, drops an egg. Oh, no, it missed because of the wind. The second time, it calculates the speed of wind. Bingo!

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1941 - Zuse Z3 – The first “programmable” computer, meaning that you could give it instructions (like from a modern day keyboard) and it would act on them.

Illustrate this: The first “programmable” computer: “Computer, computer, 2 cups of lemon juices, plus 1 cup of sugar, how many cups of lemonade are in this litre flask?”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1945 – Turing Automatic Computing Engine – This device, invented by Alan Turing, formed the model for all computers to follow because it could actually store a program, just like a modern computer stores programs like Microsoft Windows, Apple OS-1 or games.

Illustrate this: “Computer, computer, 3 cups of milk, plus 1 cup of cocoa, how many cups of hot chocolate are in this litre flask? Use the same formula I told you last week for lemonade.”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1951 – Mainframe Computer – The first truly large (the size of a bus) computers were built by a company called Univac. They were used for census data (again) and complex financial transactions. They used “batch” processing which means you load up all the data, push the button and the calculation starts…kind of like making a “batch” of cookies where you combine all the ingredients and put them in the oven.

Illustrate this: “I am a computer, so smart that I can instantly do lots of things, such as design games, do all your math homework problems, count all the stars in the sky, recognize faces, play music, and etc.”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1970’s – Minicomputer – A computer that was small (the size of a small dog house) and cheap enough to be used in many businesses for many types of jobs.

Illustrate this: “I am as smart as my grandfather, the giant computer, but I am so small (like my dog’s house), you can take me to your office. I can help you do some chores. ”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1972 – Desktop Computer – The smallest computer made so far with the keyboard, monitor and computer all in one machine the size of a breadbox. These devices planted the seed for the personal computer that we see in our homes and libraries.

Illustrate this: “My family is effective at losing weight. I am so small, you can take me home.”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1971 - Pocket Calculator – As the electronics get smaller thanks to the use of integrated circuits (IC’s), the hand held calculator that we know of today became possible. The operations performed by the Babbage Engine (the size of a couch) can now be performed by a device the size of a playing card. The smaller and cheaper these computers are, the more places they can be used and the more things they can do.

Illustrate this: “Now I shrink to fit your pocket.”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1988 – Laptop Computers – Even smaller, more capable IC’s made it possible to perform even more complex operations on a computer the size of a thick magazine that you could put on your lap…from the 1951 computer (the size of a bus) to the much more capable laptop (the size of a thick magazine).

Illustrate this: “Now I am not only smaller, but also smarter. My grandparents can’t talk with this human. But I can. Please poke my tummy, called a keyboard, and that thing called a mouse. Want to play a game?”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1993 – Internet Search – The start of the Internet. Early use was limited and slow but it has matured to the universal tool we all take for granted today.

Illustrate this: “Want to play a game with your friend, who sit in front of his computer in his house?”

Open date

April 17 2014

Due dateMay 17 2014

1999 – Gigahertz Processing – The increased speed of our computers makes it so we don’t have to wait long to download a game or movie. Gigahertz means that the computer can process 1 billion operations per second (that is one thousand times one million).

Illustrate this: “I am not only getting smarter, but also looks more beautiful. Look at the pictures, watch the videos. Do you agree?”

Have you used this educational resource?

Evaluate it## Evaluate your experience with this educational resource